Just did a bit on the John C. Scott show and spent a good part of the time talking about my column from this week (which John overly gushed about, much to my embarrassment).
The point I was trying to make was that candidates for office consume themselves with pointing out the bad. Incumbents want to accentuate the good. But what is good about Tucson? Ask yourself that question and tie it specifically to Tucson, not the county or the region.
It’s a harder question to answer than you think.
For example, we all love Sabino Canyon (or we all should, anyway). But that’s not in Tucson. Neither is the Desert Museum, or Tucson Mountain Park, or many of the other things we all list when people ask us what we like or love about Tucson. But when it comes to the city, what’s good about it?
My answer was pretty weak. I think the parks are good. Reid Park is one of the better municipal parks I’ve seen, especially in Arizona. The bike lanes are good, though I don’t ride a bike. But I think it’s good that we’re one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country. The gem show is awesome, but that doesn’t really have anything to do with the city council but the council could kill it if it wanted to or perhaps through sheer negligence, neglect or nincompoopery. It should get credit for not screwing it up, at least. The Mariachi festival is cool, but needs some help from the city to prosper, and Tucson Meet Yourself is nice but could be an even bigger and better cultural and food festival with a little more city support (See “Taste of Chicago” to get a sense of what I mean). There are a few other smaller things that are good about Tucson, but this is a pretty meager list.
I think how the candidates answer it would be informative.
As the discussion with John wandered around several points, he brought up a related one that I think also is important for this coming council election.
What is Tucson?
Tucson used to be a Western town, tied to its Western heritage through the rodeo and rodeo parade and all the dude ranches. In the 1930s and 1940s, there were more than two dozen dude ranches around town. Old Tucson and Hollywood’s constant use of the area as a backdrop for its horse operas only helped to solidify the city’s Western identity.
After the war we became the Hughes Missile town that was also part UA college town. Then in the 60s, 70s and 80s we became the golfing retirement town that was still part college town and part Hughes Missile (soon to be Raytheon) town.
But the huge growth explosion to the suburbs in the late 80s and 90s changed all that. Tucson was no longer Tucson. It was metropolitan Tucson with the suburbs developing their own distinct identities and cultures and politics.
Then we had the lost decade of the 2000s, in which Rio Nuevo and the Great Recession dominated our attention, killed our growth and obscured our vision.
Tucson also used to be very closely tied to Mexico. Mexico was our friend and our connection to it was part of our heritage, our founding. It was part of our culture. Is it still? Or is the Sonoran hot dog our last connection to our Mexican heritage.
So now, what is Tucson? What should it be? What do the council candidates think it should be and what is their plan for getting us there?
I’m curious what y’all think Tucson is (though I fear what the trolls will say).
So, if you can, complete this sentence in the comments section: Tucson is . . .