City Planning…In Mesa

A ScottsdaleTrails reader pointed out to me an AZCentral article last week about efforts in the City of Mesa to update their General Plan [Mesa launches new approach to long-range planning], in response to the same state mandate that’s driving Scottsdale’s General Plan update.

Upon first read, the efforts sound harmless enough, if not particularly compelling. However, a couple of the passages were more unsettling as I read them a second time trying to really understand what was being said.

So the aim of Mesa’s current General Plan update, mandated by state law, is “sprawl repair.”

The phrase echoed like a thunderclap last week as Planning Director John Wesley briefed the City Council on progress toward putting the new General Plan on the November 2014 ballot.

The first draft is due by October, and it will differ greatly from the general plans of Mesa’s past.

There will still be color-coded maps. But they’ll be used to describe broadly defined “character areas” rather than to dictate specific land uses on every parcel in town.

Within those character areas, any number of things will be allowed to happen as long as they don’t upset the general nature of the neighborhood.

To me, these seems like somewhat of a perversion of the notion of “character areas.” Further,

[Mesa] Mayor Scott Smith, a former homebuilder, was particularly enthusiastic, noting that the new document could signal a return to the way American cities grew organically before zoning maps began dictating land-use patterns.

“I like the approach of allowing living to happen, and I like us going back to the way cities originally developed,” Smith said.

I’ve heard references to “organic growth” before, and the term never sat well with me. It seems that “organic” growth is the opposite of “planned growth,” which is the primary objective of “city planning.”Sort of like Wall Street types

Of course, we all know (or should know) that the purpose of planned development (and redevelopment) is to separate and protect uses of lesser intensity (single-family residential) from higher intensities (housing projects, commercial, and industrial uses) in an effort to protect quality of life, preserve property values, and promote true economic sustainability.

So it sounds like Mayor Scott Smith’s objective here is to rid Mesa of zoning and allow development to happen without a comprehensive plan, I wonder how this will have any better result than what they have now? We only  have to look to Houston–the city without zoning–to see a shining example of what we don’t want Mesa–or Scottsdale–to be.

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