Try to imagine Tucson without Imagine Greater Tucson.
It’s not really that hard.
The Old Pueblo has a long history of groups like Imagine Greater Tucson that come together to address the seeming need for us to have a regional plan for the area’s growth. They form, raise money, seek public input, get professional help and produce a plan — or, in Imagine Greater Tucson’s case, a “vision.”
These documents call for environmental protection, mass transit, growth in high-paying jobs, and always “density” in development.
Then the groups dissipate, as Imagine Greater Tucson seems to be doing, spent like a salmon that’s swum upstream to spawn.
Imagine Greater Tucson’s 2012 publication, “Looking Forward: A Vision for A Greater Tucson Region,” is just the latest of these groups’ earnest efforts. Consider this quote:
“Tucson today is facing a real challenge ... not so much because of its sagging economy, traffic congestion, diminishing air quality and sprawling unplanned growth, but because of a lack of broad involvement and support for the efforts to resolve these issues.”
It’s not from Imagine Greater Tucson’s 2012 vision, but from a 1988 document by a group called Tucson Tomorrow, which produced similar reports in the 1980s. I leafed through the three boxes of Tucson Tomorrow archives at the University of Arizona library’s special collections Tuesday afternoon. The similarities to the Imagine Greater Tucson’s efforts were striking.
In 1983, Tucson Tomorrow merged with a group called Goals for Tucson, which produced a document listing nine areas for goal-setting in Tucson. They largely overlap with the nine principles that Imagine Greater Tucson established last year, under different names — for example, improved roads and transit, educational excellence and urban design. Both, for example, call for the establishment of neighborhood business nodes that will be hubs for their areas and make them better places to live.
“We need to make more precise the current ideas of ‘activity centers’ giving them more content by focusing on an idea we call the ‘metro-town,’” a 1982 land-use report by Tucson Tomorrow says.
The Imagine Greater Tucson vision document describes these areas as different types of centers: “Centers are live-work-play environments and destinations featuring a mix of housing, offices, public space, retail, institutions and services. They will be lively places with abundant street life and a variety of activities for residents and visitors.”
And the same year that Imagine Greater Tucson formed, 2007, Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities released its report “Securing Our Future Now: An Economic Blueprint for the Tucson Region.” Though TREO’s process was arguably more top-down than Imagine Greater Tucson’s, TREO also had a survey, focus groups and meetings with the public.
TREO’s blueprint focused on Tucson’s economy, not land use, but like Imagine Greater Tucson’s vision, called for an “urban renaissance,” downtown and elsewhere.
I asked Arlan Colton, Pima County’s planning director, about the various similar efforts that have occurred over the decades in Tucson. Colton’s experience bridges the Tucson Tomorrow era and the epoch of Imagine Greater Tucson, which he helped found. He noted that from then to now, plenty of Tucsonans have left and plenty more have arrived.
“Any vision for any community has a lifespan,” he said.
True, and Imagine Greater Tucson did a particularly good job of collecting community input through a series of public meetings, then turning that into a vision plan.
Still, what I yearn for is fewer plans and more action.
We’re seeing action downtown, with new buildings going up, new businesses going in, and the promise of the streetcar slowly arriving. We’re seeing action around the UA, where the dream of density is being realized in the form of student-housing towers and a mega mixed-use project proposed for the northwest corner of Speedway and Campbell.
So, Monday’s news that Imagine Greater Tucson is being forced by a lack of funding to scale back, from a group with a few paid staffers to an all-volunteer effort, is not a local tragedy. It’s just evolution.
Now it’s time for Tucson to take a nice, healthy break from the big visions and start doing.