Visiting team points Tucson greenward

posted Sunday, June 17, 2007        

Hundreds of Tucsonans participated in the three-day Sustainable Tucson Forum on June 11-13 to share their vision of a sustainable Tucson and talk about the details of accomplishing that goal.

The 2-hour community conversation on the first night was the highlight event with everyone giving voice in an frank open forum addressing Tucson’s sustainability challenges and opportunities.

To accomplish this emerging vision of a sustainable Tucson, the key recommendation was to create an inclusive community-wide sustainability coalition. Many possibilities were explored through a process of community interaction with a national Sustainable Design Assessment Team.

Many members of Sustainable Tucson took part in the process and supported the priority of forming this inclusive coalition.

Visiting team points Tucson greenward

By Tony Davis, Arizona Daily Star, June 17, 2007

Promote “walkability,” leave East Broadway open as a potential light-rail corridor, and build out the region’s bicycle route network. stadium.jpgUse less water from the ground and collect more water from the sky.

Tighten up the grids in Tucson’s road network and loosen up on parking requirements for Downtown businesses.

Recycle restaurant cooking grease into biodiesel fuel and harvest the sun’s power.

Create a council of neighborhoods and an umbrella organization of developers, environmentalists, planners and neighborhood activists.

Finally, start a community conversation on how, how much and where Tucson wants to grow.

These and dozens of other recommendations aimed at promoting sustainable development, transportation, energy use and design landed on Tucson’s doorstep in the last week.

A team of seven planners, academics and architects from six states put together the proposals after a three-day visit that included a bus tour and walking tours, a public forum, five hours of public discussion group meetings and 1 1/2 days of closed-door debate.

The Sustainable Design Assessment team, brought in by the American Institute of Architects, laid out the recommendations via PowerPoint to more than 100 people from all sectors of Tucson’s growth debate Wednesday night.

The entire effort cost $40,000, with $20,000 from the local and national architects’ groups and $10,000 each in donations from the city and county governments.

The biases and values of the team members lay clearly in the “green” direction. They preferred infill development to sprawl, renewable solar power to nonrenewable fossil fuels, transit, bikeways and pedestrian walkways to more and wider roads, and the removal, streamlining or reduction of government fees and regulations that slow close-in development.

One of their PowerPoint slides showed a gasoline pump with the price spiraling up from $2.55 to $8.55 per gallon. Another showed a bulldozer butting against a saguaro.

But a Tucson architect who organized the team’s visit said that she and the team members are well aware of the potential obstacles in proposing a sweeping agenda of environmental change. Team members said this is just the start of their efforts at turning ideals into reality.

In 60 to 90 days, they’ll produce a written report. In mid-October, the local architects’ group will hold a citywide community forum to discuss the report as part of American Institute of Architects’ Week. In a year, a team member will make a followup visit to see how the recommendations are faring.

Tucson is one of about 20 cities for which the national architects’ group has sponsored these sustainability efforts over the past three years.

Those involved know this is an uphill battle and that there is going to be skepticism, said Susan Kliman, a local architect who helped organize last week’s sessions.

But she said she believes that the national influence of former Vice President Al Gore has brought awareness and momentum toward the green movement. “I was doing research on a lot of this stuff in grad school, but nobody cared,” Kliman said. “I think people are starting to care a little more.”

Specifically, the assessment team focused on six topics: renewable energy and green resources, land use, transportation, water, Downtown revitalization and infill. Proposals ranged from the very general to the highly specific.

Some highlights:

Land use. Lecturer Kit McCullough of the University of Michigan said in an interview that a broad discussion on where and how much Tucson should grow is necessary for the community to reach consensus on how to proceed on development both on the edge and within the city.

While people have been arguing about growth in Tucson since the 1960s, the discussion hasn’t proceeded as far along as it has in other places, said McCullough, an Austin architect and urban designer in the 1990s before moving to Michigan.

In Austin, discussions on the growth issue had gone nowhere until the Sierra Club formed coalitions and found common ground with groups of opposite views, she said. Then change began to happen, “and I hope this will happen here.”

But McCullough also said local governments should remove obstacles from infill development, by helping developers assemble land parcels to build on, streamlining the process of approving development in the core and reducing or eliminating impact fees in city areas where development is desired.

Transportation. Planner Paula Reeves of the Washington Department of Transportation posted on a Power Point slide “Sun Belt or Road Belt?” to describe her view of big traffic questions facing Tucson.

“How long will we try to build our way out of congestion?” she said.

While Tucson builds roads and makes bus service improvements called for in the voter-approved Regional Transportation Authority plan, Reeves suggested that the door to light rail be left open. It wasn’t on last year’s RTA ballot and voters overwhelmingly turned a rail proposal down in 2003, but Reeves said the Broadway corridor should stay on the table as a potential future rail site.

For now, she urged Tucsonans to push for smaller-is-beautiful transportation improvements, such as “context sensitive design” and reducing the scale of the area’s road-grid system.

“Context sensitive design” is a planner’s term for a road design that takes in other community values besides the usual faster-is-better considerations, by including landscaping, public art, narrower lanes, lower design speeds, sharper turns and other special features not included in standard road designs.

Infill and Downtown. One key to success is the formation of neighborhood councils that include residents, businesses, bankers and other leaders in a neighborhood in which people can learn from one another, said Scott Page, an urban designer from Philadelphia.

Another idea is creating a neighborhood planning challenge fund, inviting neighborhood leaders and groups to apply for money to build projects in their communities. A third is to promote neighborhood pride.

Page also called for the creation of meaningful neighborhood plans involving neighbors who are affected by the plans as well as city officials. The purpose would be to capture values in a neighborhood as well as lay down rules, he said. “There’s a fundamental lack of trust. … Tucson is not the first city in which neighborhoods don’t trust the city, or (they) fight with one another,” Page said.

Some of the proposed policies
ENERGY

  • Transfer 3 to 4 percent of Tucson’s annual energy use from petroleum-based to renewable sources.
  • Use deep space radiation to radiate heat from buildings into the nighttime sky.
  • Urge that every rooftop have a solar or sustainable power source.

WATER

  • Use more stormwater and reclaimed water.
  • Address the question of whether Tucson is conserving water to support more growth, or the issue will undermine public support for conservation.
  • Set a water budget for each home lot. Those who use more than what’s budgeted would pay skyrocketing rates.

TRANSPORTATION

  • Reduce road grid networks from one mile long to a quarter-mile, to encourage more walking between major destinations.
  • Finish building Tucson’s bicycle lane system, install more signs to mark paths and routes and build stations along routes where people can store and lock their bikes, grab a bite or get tires changed.
  • Promote Flexcars, Zipcars and other car-sharing and renting arrangements where cars are parked in specific places, rented by the hour and shared among various renters. One shared car can displace 15 individually owned private cars.

LAND USE:

  • Change the area’s development cycle from a conventional one aimed at producing standard single-family homes and more roads to one that promotes mixed-use development, a diversity of housing and business types, and walking and bicycling over cars.

DOWNTOWN and INFILL

  • Put a diversity of small businesses and homes within a street block, over “superblocks” bounded by widely spaced, high speed blocks.
  • Urge zero parking for new businesses, to reduce driving and congestion.

Community voices

“There was so much positive energy generated by this event for this community. Now my concern is, ‘How do you build on it, how do you maintain it, so something actually happens?’” – Ruth Beeker, former president, Miramonte (Neighborhood) Association in Midtown.

“It’s great that we have people who are objective and independent coming in for this process. But at the same time, there are a lot of issues, the complexity of which isn’t easy to understand.” – Leslie Liberti, director of the city of Tucson Office of Conservation and Sustainable Development.

Contact reporter Tony Davis at 806-7746 or tdavis@azstarnet.com.

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