One of my pet peeves over the past ten or so years (I know, seems like a minor point) is the lack of artistic gateways to downtown. While I was working at the Tucson Arts District partnership I was always hoping that we would find a way to create some visible markers to let you know you were in the “Arts District”. This seemed to fall into a grey area due to the question of who would pay for it (public funds or private), where would they be located, and who would decide on the artist/themes? With the demise of the Arts District, and craziness of Rio Nuevo this notion seems lost for good.
Part of the downtown signage plan called for kiosks to be located downtown and that would have helped create a sense of place, but sadly they were never constructed. Full disclosure – I saw the design plans for these kiosks because my wife’s design firm had been hired by the City to design the entire downtown signage system and I watched these plans go from spectacular to affordable and then non-existent. So why would we need kiosks or gateways? In visiting other cities such as L.A., Chicago, and San Francisco I have seen successful gateway projects and other signage elements which add to the walking, urban experience as well as creating a sense of place. A sense of arrival is essential when creating an experience. Think how, when driving downtown on a Saturday night the two neon marquees of the Fox and Rialto give you a feeling of being in an urban space. A place dedicated to entertainment. How can we carry out that feel in broad daylight? How can we recreate the downtown of yesteryear? Can we make people remember what we want them to?
Obviously the tile murals of Steve Farley help set the tone when entering downtown from Broadway, but what about Stone Ave.? What about from the freeway? I remember clearly coming to Tucson for the first time in 1983 to go to the University of Arizona. We got off the freeway at Speedway and the first major landmark we passed after getting off the highway was a big strip club (now an empty lot). This really set the tone for the community. So maybe I’m talking about gateways to the entire community and not just to downtown. Imagine entering Tucson through the Saguaro National Forest on all sides – that would make a statement, and help us control sprawl?
If we want to be taken seriously, be respected, and be proud of our community first impressions are the rule. Let’s take some time to clean up the front yard of our community so the neighbors will want to do the same.