The University of Arizona

UA Grad Students Take on Tucson Revitalization Project

By Rebecca Ruiz-McGill, University Communications | May 23, 2012

This fall, the School of Landscape Architecture and Planning team will present the City of Tucson its official proposal including a master design plan and analysis, literature reviews and case studies.

Students in the UA School of Landscape Architecture and Planning have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the field and insight into the reality of the profession by working on proposals such as the downtown Tucson revitalization project.
Students in the UA School of Landscape Architecture and Planning have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the field and insight into the reality of the profession by working on proposals such as the downtown Tucson revitalization project.

Graduate students in the University of Arizona College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture have proposed a plan to bring water to the Santa Cruz and other zones in downtown Tucson and to encourage development and attract human interest. 

The proposal, requested from city planners and presented to various officials and community members, included bike and walking trails, farmer's markets and other shopping venues as well as a new stadium/concert venue to house events and link visitors to and from the east and west side of Interstate 10.

Using existing and planned commuting routes such as bus, biking and the now under construction Modern Streetcar, the team of students led by associate professor Mark Frederickson envisions a sustainable oasis lined with cottonwoods and overhead aluminum shading features that guide pedestrians through the new development.

Frederickson, who teaches in the UA School of Landscape Architecture and Planning, seeks opportunities and projects for his students to gain hands-on experience in the field and insight into the reality of the profession.

The area the team focused on begins on the east side of Interstate 10 at the foot of Sentinel Peak, commonly known as "A Mountain," which would be the home of the proposed new stadium, and winds its way across Interstate 10 through Granada Avenue as it makes its way through Congress Street.

Frederickson said the students' work is an extension of other proposals developed by previous student teams that have taken on proposals for downtown Tucson development.

"The project entails the concepts of landscape architecture and its use as an effective catalyst for economic, environmental, social and aesthetic change in urban environments," he said. "And it is a remarkably effective tool for urban and small town revitalization."

Downtown Tucson is one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas in the Southwest and is where Tucson established its roots.

The city's history brings with it three major landscape changes that occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries:

  • Its division and segregation from the rest of the city to the northeast by the foundation of the Union Pacific Rail line.
  • Its division from the west side of the city and the Santa Cruz River bed by the development of Interstate 10.
  • The immense demolition of its original layout and many of its oldest pueblos during urban revitalization projects in 1970s.

The project seeks to connect and unify those landscape changes. The team included native Tucsonan members and one with three generations of history in the city.

"I have learned so much about Tucson and the site. I did lots of research and also spoke to my grandfather. My parents grew up here, my mother in Barrio Libre and my father in Menlo Park. Those of us who are locals and worked on the project took it very personally, and if someone in the class proposed options where we'd have to get rid of this area or move it, we'd step in with history," said Micaela Machado, a second-year student in the master's program.

The students were charged with introducing new ideas and struck another historical nerve with the concept of reintroducing water to the community at the Santa Cruz. 

Amid dry creosote flats and valleys of cactus, the river once ran year-round, providing the things most needed in a desert: water, shade and cooler microclimates. Its veining pattern was scattered with Arizona cottonwoods, visible from distant mountains.

"Our team talked with water conservationists and river rehabilitation experts as well as representatives from Tucson Water, and those conversations made us realize the potential," said Machado, the student spokesman for the group. "Tucson can be a pioneer for sustainability in the Southwest and have riparian areas."

The team proposal includes water harvesting for irrigation of a community garden and riparian areas and water features throughout.   

Next, in the fall the team will present the City of Tucson its official proposal with a master design plan and analysis, literature reviews and case studies.