What will the future look like for the greater Tucson region? Can you imagine the possibilities?
If you’re having trouble visualizing, consider that the local population – now 1 million residents in Pima County – is expected to double over the next decades.
This trajectory presents both significant opportunities and sizeable challenges for the area and has prompted concerned citizens and organizations to take note and start thinking ahead.
Enter Imagine Greater Tucson – a non-profit, community-based initiative that got underway about two years ago. Its stated purpose is to “create a shared vision and clear action for the Tucson region” to ensure that it will be a “vibrant and healthy place to live, work, learn and play for current and future generations of all ages.”
Imagine Greater Tucson is largely about being prepared. It’s also about being proactive.
Keri Silvyn, an attorney with the firm Lewis & Roca, has been the driving force behind IGT since its inception. Thanks to Silvyn’s leadership, more than 100 individuals and organizations teamed up at the start to move the effort forward. A steering committee comprised of representatives from business, government and the non-profit sector continues to guide the endeavor.
In August, IGT hired Eileen Fagan to serve as executive director of the organization. Fagan came to Tucson from Denver nearly three years ago. She brings more than two decades of experience in marketing in the fields of engineering and urban planning, and has been involved in a number of community enhancement and civic engagement projects throughout her career.
Frequently commuting between Denver and Tucson before relocating here gave Fagan an opportunity to compare and contrast the two cities.
“Denver is a great example of a place that was able to take on tremendous economic transformation and urban renewal relatively quickly,” said Fagan. “I saw Tucson as having huge potential – but at the time, it had slower forward motion.”
In addition to Denver, IGT organizers researched numerous successful revitalization and visioning projects across the United States and Canada. The outcomes of these initiatives are diverse – they range from changes in public policy for health care to the development of innovative environmental preservation and growth strategies, as well as improvements in transportation.
Robert Grow, founding chair emeritus of a highly regarded Envision Utah project, lent his expertise to help get IGT established.
He said visioning projects commonly look out 25 to 50 years and use a form of reverse engineering to meet a region’s concurrent needs to preserve culture, produce jobs and create better places to live.
Grow said, “Visioning provides the chance to stop, take a breath and ask ‘What do we as a community really want?’ – rather than wondering and asking, ‘What’s going to happen next?’”
The IGT website suggests possibilities: “The process may identify how to benefit, preserve or enhance areas such as the environment (water, land, air), our transportation system, health care access, education, housing – just to name a few possible outcomes.”
The IGT approach was organized into three phases; the last slated for completion in the fall of 2012.
The first phase, currently in progress, is focused on asking citizens to identify “core values” to uncover what they appreciate most about living in this region. The responses are being captured from facilitated community conversations and through an on-line survey.
First-phase results will be shared with the public, along with a “business as usual model” that will illustrate what the region will look like if it stays on its current course for growth. At that point, residents will be asked to determine whether there is a gap between what they value and what will occur if the region does not address impending hurdles or consider viable options for the future.
The second phase will focus on creating alternative scenarios for preserving core values in the long run and a “blueprint” to assist with the prioritization of issues and the selection of solutions.
The third phase will capitalize on the knowledge gained up to that point and concentrate on developing strategies and a plan of action.
Once the plan is complete, its various components will be integrated into the work of existing systems, organizations and municipal planning processes. IGT will develop new vehicles and coalitions to accomplish goals as needed.
From the beginning, IGT has been learning from sponsors of previous and existing planning efforts in Southern Arizona, including the Regional Town Hall, Pima Association of Governments (PAG), Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities and Sustainable Tucson.
“IGT is the most comprehensive planning exercise in recent memory,” said Andrew Greenhill, chief of staff for the City of Tucson Mayor’s Office. “We know from previous exercises, however, that the biggest challenge will be in the implementation. We can all play a role to ensure that it gets done.”
Working effectively with scores of stakeholders is a balancing act for a non-partisan, a-political effort. But Fagan says the program has been well received on many fronts and by many jurisdictions. The organization is currently coordinating with the City of Tucson, Pima County, the City of South Tucson, the towns of Marana and Sahuarita, the Tohono O’odham Nation and the Pasqua Yaqui Tribe.
“This is a great opportunity for the Tucson Chamber and other entities to find common issues and resolve concerns using a cooperative regional approach,” remarked Gary Clark, chairman of the board of the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and vice president of Southwest Gas Corporation. “But all levels of the business community, from large employers to small, should make their views known.”
IGT relies on private and public sources for funding and estimates that the initial process will cost approximately $1.5 million. PAG provided $500,000 in seed money, and others have added to it, including the Thomas R. Brown Foundations with a gift of $25,000 and the Tucson Young Professionals with a pledge of $20,000. IGT has also welcomed a plethora of $5 contributions from individuals attending community briefings. Ongoing support and financial backing are vital to the organization’s continued achievement.
The Caliber Group, Cox Communications and Clear Channel Communications are credited with making substantial investments in the publicity and promotion of the program.
Kerry Stratford, a partner of the marketing agency The Caliber Group, said the outreach strategy for IGT is to encourage the involvement of as many residents in the greater Tucson region as possible. Caliber devised a multi-media campaign consisting of electronic media, billboards, print advertisements and promotional materials, many of which include a QR code that gives mobile phone users convenient access to the electronic survey.
Even with all of the activity, Fagan insists it is impractical to predict what issues will be ultimately addressed. She acknowledged that some themes have emerged during community conversations and surveys completed to date, including shared affinity for Tucson’s natural surroundings, cultural diversity and ‘small-town’ feel. “We cannot pre-suppose anything,” she said. “Right now we are focused on ensuring that all opinions are heard.”
You might consider, then, that the future of the Tucson region depends on your voice, your input on what values are most important for the future of the greater Tucson region.
As for the future of IGT itself?
“We don’t really know at this point,” said Fagan. “The continuation of the organization will depend on the outcome of the initial two-year process and the funding available. The form of IGT will likely evolve. Its existence depends on whether it is required to fill a critical need.”