Downtown Tucson Partnership Project Plants Positivity

March 17, 2014

A burst of color and cactus amid the concrete and bricks not only changes the dynamic, but also directs foot traffic away from the curb.

A burst of color and cactus amid the concrete and bricks not only changes the dynamic, but also directs foot traffic away from the curb.

by James J. Jefferies

It can be easy to think of a massive, on-going urban renewal project like Downtown Tucson’s in terms of big things. Shiny new Streetcars. The network of cable overhead that powers those cars. Colossal new buildings, parking structures, and exciting places to go. Those are weighty subjects which most everyone in town has an interest in keeping as real to Tucson’s sense of history and definitive charm as possible as we move forward and continue to grow.

However, these aren’t the only things growing Downtown. While walking around Downtown, keep your eyes peeled for heavy-duty planters teeming with a variety of species of cacti, flowers, and other plants, not only for the purpose of injecting a little bit of natural beauty into the area, but also making it a more friendly and defined space for people, via a process called streetscaping.

Reminding ourselves that we remain deep in the heart of one of the Earth's most spectacular and diverse natural environments is psychologically important in what can be ferociously busy and stressful times. Besides, they're pretty!

Reminding ourselves that we remain deep in the heart of one of the Earth’s most spectacular and diverse natural ecosystems is psychologically important in what can be ferociously busy and stressful times. Besides, flowers are pretty!

“We began this project about four years ago,” said Brandi Haga, Operations and Events Manager for the Downtown Tucson Partnership. There had been some effort off and on to imbue the area with some plant life and manage the walkable spaces that had fallen off in the last decade, but it wasn’t until 2010 that the funding was available to make streetscaping a consistent imperative.

“We just sat down and said, we need to get this going again, because it really adds to the Downtown landscape,“ said Haga.

She said any kind of large parcel of undeveloped land is not only unsightly, but also invites trash and cigarette butts. Plants and flowers, however, not only provide for some beauty, but have proven calming effects on people simply with their presence.

“We’ve got a wide variety of plant types in more than fifty locations around Downtown,” said Russ Stone, Maintenance Supervisor for the Downtown Tucson Partnership. He’s been with DTP since the summer of 2012, and tending to a variety of plant life is one of the tasks he looks most forward to. “It’s just one of those things that really has a positive impact on people,” said Stone.

Even some of Downtown's most storied landmarks can be enlivened with a bit of nature's finest.

Even some of Downtown’s most storied landmarks can be enlivened with a bit of nature’s finest.

Studies show that a process of directing foot traffic with strategically placed planters, trees, and shrubbery has a legitimately profound impact on a space being perceived as more inhabitable. The simple presence of plant life amid what can be a concrete jungle in any city shouldn’t be underestimated.

Since becoming engaged in their streetscaping efforts, the Partnership has received steady positive feedback from merchants and the public about the program, even in ways not previously considered. “For example, we’d approach some restaurants, and say, ‘We’ve got some rosemary, and we’d like to plant it in front of your restaurant, and you can use it,’” said Haga. It’s a win-win for commuters, residents, and proprietors alike.

This idea also neatly coincides with the stated desire of many of Downtown’s newer dining ventures to generate their business in a way that feeds off of local produce in a sustainable manner. It isn’t as obvious as a new high-rise, or the only important step to renew an urban space, but it is something that has a deep effect on making Downtown Tucson a more livable, sustainable space for everyone who calls the city home to come and enjoy.

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