Re-Examining Tucson: Considering the Aesthetic and Architectural Implications of “Non-Class Culture” on the Tucson Built Environment


On Tuesday I met with some Occupy Tucson people at the Old Y” which is now a center for progressive groups and causes.  This was the first time that I met and participated in a Occupy event anywhere.

How appropriate that Greg Evans would present Andres Gorz’s work in Tucson as I come to Tucson for the first time in years. My revisit of the city made me realize that it despite its reputation for suburban sprawl and being a Red State is actually an unique and interesting place to live for many progressives.

What I see is that Tucson has evolved into a place that many of those non-class non-workers have settled. Sedona has similar groups coming there, but I see the population in Sedona as more affluent, older and the city as a whole has a huge problem with aesthetic image conveying inauthentic corporate feel despite being a bastion for the cultural creative class like Tucson.

Past experiences living in Tucson were bitter sweet though. I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the sprawl. The Heat Island Effect – all that pavement baking the earth like an oven – left a deep impression on me. I remember feeling baked like a raisin on Speedway with an image of the highway running endlessly into the horizon of the surrounding mountains. I also saw the pathetic looking downtown as a sign of neglect and the fact that city was racing towards a million people but with a downtown more suited for a city of 250,000 left a bad taste in my mouth. I also remember having little luck finding a descent job when I lived here in 02.

This time the unusually long monsoon season is keeping the city surprisingly cool. And maybe the city has evolved with a more refined or at least seasoned feel to some of the older buildings that dot the rough working class neighborhoods.

One of the interesting things about the “city” of Tucson (I still find it hard to relate to such low density, hodge-podge conglomerations of neighborhoods as cities) to me is that I can see it in the aging of the city in a way that i did not see in my previous time here. While the downtown is not what you would expect for a city of 1 million (more like what you would expect for a city 25% its size), it has an interesting college campus district that is lively and well known. 4th avenue, the college district next to UoA lost some of its mystique in my mind but still is interesting place to walk and hang out…

Unlike neighboring Phoenix the city neighborhoods are becoming more distinguished and lively as people age and look at alternatives to the car.  However this gap may be narrowing between the two cities as the Phoenix light rail is encouraging rapid transit oriented development and densification along the rail corridor helping to improve the quality of life in these parts of the city.  Still I suggest that there is a particular flavor to Tucson that defies the cookie cutter assumptions of commercial culture and suburban sprawl.

The thriving Old Tucson built environment may relate to Tucson’s evolution into a unique enclave and refuge for the Gorz’s “nonclass.” While there are many middle class progressives here, a growing class of people elude conventional notions of career and profession and simply follow the prescriptions of another philosophical prophet Duane Elgin in his book Voluntary Simplicity.  It was these people who defy conventional demographic and economic categorization that  made Occupy Tucson a successful albeit brief protest movement.

However its disappointing to see that the ripping up of the trolley from campus to downtown is not part of any real plan to implement a light right system in Tucson. Yet we know Bus Rapid Transit is a reasonable even lower cost alternative and yet that is being pushed as part of an effort to expand roads even further to a point where many are concerned it will only worsen the heat island effect, while bankrupting the city spend more resources on car culture while the economy matures and ultimately slows. More on this later…

 

 

How appropriate that Greg Evans would present Gorz’s work in Tucson as I come to Tucson for the first time in years. My revisit of the city made me realize that it was a progressive place in which Andres Gorz’s notion of the non-class was really coming to form and in that way the Frenchman was securing his legacy as philosopher prophet.

Tucson’s evolution into a unique enclave and refuge for the Gorz’s “nonclass. nonworkers” is worth exploring further. While there are many middle class progressives here, a growing class of people elude conventional notions of career and profession and simply follow the prescriptions of another philosophical prophet Duane Elgin in his book Voluntary Simplicity.  Elgin was also prophetic in seeing a trend of a group of people who while in some way fitting Paul Ray’s Culture Creative class seemed to  defy conventional and traditional demographic and economic categorization. One key aspect of this split among the CCs is that one group is conventional class oriented and the other is not. We really see this in Sedona where there are really 3-4 classes of people: shop owners and new age healers that cater to the CC tourist and rich class; worker class CCs; worker class Mexicans; trust funders and/or  retirees who have marginal income and of course the rich 1% who like Sedona often for the wrong reasons.

It is more interesting in my view to consider socioeconomic theories such as what Gorz is talking about in real time rather than considering complex historical theories and or jargon of past eras. This would be my major critique of Evans’ presentation was that I felt it was too intellectually over-burdened by complex words, phrases and sentences.

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