We had a big deal in my home town, Tucson Arizona. (I was away in Flagstaff for continuing education.) On Thursday Chris Bianco’s Pizzeria Bianco opened its doors. (More tomorrow, but this is a much bigger deal than you might think, even for a city of one million people.) And on Friday morning, July 25, 2014, the Modern Streetcar started regular runs. Here’s a bit of background on the streetcar, courtesy of Arizona Public Media, our local PBS/NPR affiliate and a great organization.
Now, it’s no accident that a nationally acclaimed the best pizzaiolo in the country has extended himself beyond Phoenix by opening up in downtown Tucson. We can thank the Modern Streetcar for that! Sole cause? No, and nothing hardly ever is! But a necessary element? You’ll find Pizzeria Bianco on the streetcar line, a block or so from a stop on a well-developed restaurant row. Figure it out!
The Modern Streetcar gets plenty of criticism. It was not inexpensive, coming in at around $200 million for 4+ miles of track, stops, and eight cars. It does not have easy parking at its east terminus, and it has been built in a city not known for its interest in public transportation.
Well, it’s here, and it’s time to move along. (Lyrics from Kenny Rogers song, The Gambler, about holding and folding come to mind.) But there is much more here than, “we’re stuck with this, make the best of it” and, at least for me, the Modern Streetcar represents a big, big piece of the puzzle that represents Tucson’s salvation.
Digression. I practiced law downtown—attorneys work downtown, right?—from 1981 through 1999. I left my firm for solo practice not because of downtown, but I paid much higher rent in midtown and was delighted to be gone. (My old firm also left, several years later.) Sure, I had to park for court, and there was plenty of “hurried driving” because I could not simply walk across the street for a hearing. But downtown was ugly, dirty, noisy, and no place to be five days a week.
Skip ahead 10 years. New firm. Great opportunity. And downtown. Not an issue. Downtown moved far during those 10 years, and everything “in the works” suggested lots more progress on the way. And? In the almost five years I have been downtown, the streetcar tracks and stations have been built, and with very few business failures during the tough construction period. Many new, solid businesses have opened, most on or close to the streetcar line. Lots—1000 or more—private student housing beds downtown and on the 6th Street corridor, providing customers for the new businesses and limiting the amount of capital needed by the University of Arizona to solve what has been a chronic housing shortage. (The Modern Streetcar provides transportation to and from the university for these students.) And, with the new offerings, non-student people are moving back downtown, both to work and live.
This process will take lots of time. People of a certain age—that would be me—and those who are older will not likely see the full impact. Further, Tucson still has its many issues, none greater than education and poverty. So we’ve got lots and lots of work ahead of us! In the meantime, though, there are many reasons to celebrate this major accomplishment.
Wrapping up, a major public works project does not happen without leadership and lots and lots of hard work. Many people deserve lots of credit, but because a tiff between two local politicians over credit (and because, frankly, I really don’t know enough about who did what, what mattered most, etc.), I mention no names. Thanks so much to all who were involved for the energy and hard work, and most of all for the vision. We don’t always have an abundance of that “vision thing” here in Tucson!
P.S. The modern streetcar’s Maintenance and Storage Facility is one classy building. It looks “built to last” and suggests a level of quality which, also, is not always present here.