Jim Greene, Special to Tucson Local Media Jan 31, 2018
The Explorer Jan. 24 edition included an article outlining a report presented to the town council on Jan. 17 by representatives of the town’s planning organization. The report covers the town’s Main Street Project, setting forth ideas for developing a town center. While the report is well-intentioned, as a resident of the town, I must question both its premises and conclusions.
The Report allegedly takes the position that a town center (as it envisions it) is absolutely required if the town is to “prosper.” It further argues that to support a center the town needs more population, with an emphasis on a younger demographic to financially support the retail in the town and at the center. And it further argues that to secure that younger demographic, higher density and cheaper housing is required. Let’s look at those assumptions.
Is the town center required if the town is to grow and proper? I am aware of some great “town centers” in Scottsdale and Southern California. And the areas where they are located have strong local economies. But, I am also aware of plenty of communities in both areas which do not have “town centers” and nevertheless prosper. The town center could be a nice to have, depending upon the financials, but it is hardly the only path to prosperity.
I might add that in recent years, the town leadership has seemingly obsessed with growing the business economy. Consider the love affair with sports tourism. While a prosperous business community is very desirable, assuming that it comes with the right price tag, I don’t believe the town charter places it above other factors which affect the quality of life residents find in the community. I moved to Oro Valley about 10 years ago; the decision was based largely on quality of life.
Oh, by the way. I remember when town residents were asked to vote on a subsidy for the Oro Valley Marketplace. One of the arguments given by the proponents is that the marketplace, with theaters, restaurants and interesting retail, would become a de facto town center. How did that work out? And town residents still pay the bill.
Is a more youthful demographic required for town prosperity? The report treats that as a given, but that is far from proven. Some reports about our younger adult generations would support the notion that their spending habits are different than older generations. That is to be expected, as generations generally differ in values. But to assume that by facilitating population growth with an emphasis on a younger generation equates to more prosperity is foolish. There are too many factors, such as incomes and employment opportunity, which will be more critical. And right now, Southern Arizona does not offer great opportunity even to U of A graduates, many of whom must leave to pursue their dreams.
Are higher density and lower housing prices required for Oro Valley prosperity? This is a two way street if I ever saw one. Yes, more population would arguably increase business for merchants and service people. But if the additional population has less wealth per household, the nature of business in the town would probably change, and not necessarily for the better. We already have “big box” discount retail at the marketplace. Nothing against those retailers, but going to the Marketplace does not have the same quality of life as going to La Encantada, which does serve as a de facto town center.
I might also add that the town has already been pursuing “higher density” for some time, with many many zoning changes to accommodate higher residential density. Take a look at some of the newer developments with very small lots for single family homes, most having only views of their neighbor’s bathrooms rather than mountains. I am hard pressed to think higher density could be achieved with single family homes. Multifamily can be OK, but again quality can be a major issue.
I, for one, am very concerned with quality of life issues in the town. I think the town needs to think a lot more about the implications of the report and slow down. The town’s sole job is not just to facilitate “growth and prosperity” as the report seems to describe them.