A few weeks back I attended a forum (here in Tucson) put on by the Urban Land Institute that was called: "Crafting Tomorrow's Built Environment", a community conversation on regional land use. The forum was developed primarily at the behest of the Tucson Regional Town Hall and the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, local heavy hitters in the areas of economic development, policy, and strategic planning.
The main speakers at the event included Grady Gammage Jr., from the Phoenix law firm of Gammage & Burnham and the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University and Robert Grow, another attorney, from Salt Lake City and the main organizer for Envision Utah - a process recently undertaken to plan future growth in the Wasatch Front area of Utah.
The main message presented was that if Tucson really wants to plan for future growth in the region (or even within individual cities/towns), the best approach is to think big. As in big picture, grand ideas, comprehensive - a "visioning" process, as Robert Grow calls it to distinguish it from a mere planning process. Another key message (not embraced by all in attendance) was that the region will continue to grow - the only real question is how and where that growth will occur
There seemed to be consensus among the attendees that this visioning process is what the Tucson region should pursue. It was probably a pre-determined outcome - the folks in attendance were likely there because of their preference for managed growth (myself included). But I think the visioning process is not really about planning growth (why its not just called a comprehensive plan) but rather about the community deciding how it envisions its overall appearance at some future date in terms of housing, transportation, open space, sense of community, arts, entertainment, etc. This vision is then used to guide the growth planning process.
So what is going to come of this? At the end of the day, plans were somewhat firmed to develop a process whereby the community would be given input on how such a visioning process could be instituted in Tucson. After the process is instituted, discussions would presumably begin looking at how the process would occur, who would be involved, and what the outcome would be. This is supposed be kicked off in early 2009 with a series of public meetings.
What is this process likely to entail? I think everyone is waiting to find out the answer to that. I could sense the tension in the room between the people who would like to see this handled by a small, select group of power players - the usual political, financial, construction, and other growth industry representatives - and those who want an opportunity for input from all (especially community activist and environmental groups, who with some honesty, often feel excluded from these processes).
One of the main examples from the Envision Utah process was the need for an inclusive process creating buy-in from many segments of the community. It sounds really messy and time-consuming, but a sense of community consensus is the only way this type of process can be successful. The hardest part is that it requires that everyone come to the table with an open mind and willingness to listen to the concerns of all parties, especially those they don't agree with. Also, everyone must be willing to compromise and accept that they will not leave the process believing they have won a victory - everyone should feel like they have accomplished something and given something up at the end of the day. Successful compromise results in no clear winners or losers - except the community as a whole should be a clear winner in this case.
I'll be discussing this more as the visioning process begins to unfold.