Thursday, January 25, 2007

Man's legacy: a saga of growth, as planner Taylor leaves city job

[Source: Tom Beal, Daily Star] -- Taylor looks at numbers and sees people. For three decades, Taylor has been principal interpreter of the Tucson zeitgeist, a man with a firm grasp of the region's history, an encyclopedic knowledge of its demographics and an affection for its people, disguised in satire that nips and occasionally bites. He's crunched the numbers, and he's got us down. "You and I came with a thirst for space," he said in a 1999 speech. "We have decided we want 17 acres and a horse for Johnny. We want Camelot among the saguaros. Most Tucsonans I know want a six-lane divided interstate at the end of their mailbox . . . that goes directly and without a light to their shaded parking space at their place of work." Taylor, 66, will end his 30 years as a city planner this week.

Trained as an anthropologist, Taylor first found work as a "fake planner" under Tucson Planning Director Paul Zucker in 1976. It was the heyday of a Comprehensive Planning Process spawned by a political populism that decried the ill effects of urban sprawl and suggested controls on the region's growth. The plan was denounced as a "communist manifesto" by business leaders who rose up to defeat it, Taylor said. "The business community convinced us that more is better and too much is just right." In subsequent decades, we spread, as Taylor would say, "like peanut butter on a hot car hood." As the population soared, the region's density was halved. Wages shrank. Tucson's median wage dropped steadily between 1970 and 1990. Things have improved since then, Taylor said, but we're still not up to 1970 levels in real dollars, and our density remains less than half what it was in the early '50s — and it continues to drop.

Taylor embraced every opportunity to remind us of our conflicting desires to grow and to preserve our way of life, and of the effects of not doing either well. He spoke to groups of all stripes at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and provided the leavening quote in every well-baked story about the region's growth. Jack Camper, president of the Metropolitan Tucson Chamber of Commerce for much of Taylor's tenure as principal planner for the city, said he always could rely on Taylor for humorous speeches and hard facts. "That was the key," Camper said. "You didn't get a bunch of fluff from Dave Taylor. He told it like he saw it. He was a terrific source of reliable information." [Note: To read the full article, click here.