Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
Tucson has a long history of dozing history and later lamenting it. Two prime examples are the Convento, built in 1770 on the west side of the Santa Cruz River and covered by a landfill in the 1950s, and, of course, the large swaths of Barrio Viejo, which were razed during an urban renewal frenzy to make way for the Tucson Convention Center.
The latest chapter in the let’s-knock-down-old-buildings-and-make-a-fast-buck book is the demolition of historic neighborhoods near the University of Arizona to build mini-dorms and high-rise student housing.
The destruction of Tucson’s historic architecture came to mind recently as I listened to To the Best of Our Knowledge, a thoughtful Sunday afternoon program on National Public Radio (NPR). This past Sunday they explored the idea of “place” and our deeply rooted connection to home and homeland.
Primarily the commentators lamented the homogenization of America, an America that has lost is “peculiarity,” its sense of history, its sense of place. Cities and towns that were once distinctive due to the architecture, the ethnic populace, and the local food and culture have been turned into wastelands of fast food restaurants that serve the same food nationwide and strip malls filled with imported brick-a-brack.
This is what mini-dorms developers are doing to the Feldman and Jefferson Park Neighborhoods and trying to do to other older neighborhoods in Tucson’s core– grind up historic homes and spit out cookie cutter mini-dorms. The destruction is glaringly evident in the video below. Entire streets in the Feldman Neighborhood have been converted to mini-dorm ghettos of stucco and particle board.
Tucson City Council vote
The latest battle in Jefferson Park’s war against the mini-dorm developers is the hearing and vote at the Tucson City Council meeting on June 21, 2011. The Jefferson Park activists have been working with the city to develop a Neighborhood Preservation Zone (NPZ) overlay to protect the architectural integrity of the neighborhood. Currently, mini-dorm developers are taking advantage of low housing prices, a slow residential sales market, and foreclosures to cheaply buy single-family homes on R-1 lots and replace them with mini-dorms that house 4-6 residents (plus girlfriends and boyfriends) in structures specifically designed for college students. The size, scale, and designs of the mini-dorms are not compatible with the historic nature of the bungalows and adobes in any of Tucson’s older neighborhoods.
Mini-dorm developers are destroying Tucson’s sense of place. It’s time for Tucson politicians to stop cutting deals with developers who want to destroy our history to make a fast buck.
The Tucson City Council should approve Jefferson Park’s NPZ and work with mini-dorm developers to find locations– outside of historic neighborhoods– for multi-unit student housing. (Here’s a hint: there are several vacant car dealership lots on Speedway and abandoned businesses on Stone and First.) Leave our historic neighborhoods intact– or live to regret it. Do we really want old town Tucson to look like Oro Valley on steroids?
Pop Quiz: Which of the above structures has a sense of place and history? The one on the top or the one on the bottom?