Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tucson's urban fabric

Declining neighborhoods can be transformed

The urban fabric of a place is what we see in our daily lives. The details of the physical environment matter. Details make the difference.

I recently visited Tucson, a city in the desert of Arizona with a half million residents. It was a place of residential fences. I've never seen so many. Everyone, it seems, gates their property.

The old pithy saying proclaims; Good fences make good neighbors. I've always thought good neighbors make good neighbors. Too many fences actually make streets ugly. Here, too many streets were corridors of fences.

Yet even in this fence infested city there are ways to beautify. Tucson has some great examples of community branding and neighborhood art, what SafeGrowth calls community culture. Planners know this as placemaking.

Signage branding in the university district

One lower income neighborhood marked their entranceway with a decorative entranceway, lined nearby freeway walls with murals, and organized to get funding to build a beautiful park.

Murals to beautify

In the university area a lively bohemian street was branded with signs and street art. Even at night-time the eye was treated to a warm orange pallate on parking lot walls with what would normally be insufficient low pressure sodium lighting.

Low lighting can work if done properly

The devil is clearly in the details of our urban fabric. Now if only we could get placemaking details into commercial suburban strips!

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