Saturday, June 30, 2012

June's Food Truck Roundup In NW Tucson

Last month, I posted about our first experience with Tucson's Food Truck Roundup.  We had a tasty veggie wrap and Cuban sandwich from Jamie's Bitchen Kitchen (see photo below of their graphic-stand-out truck) and delicious moon pies (one vanilla, one salted caramel) from Pin-Up Pastries  (This visit, we didn't try Pin-Up "cake pops" but we watched two little girls gleefully munching on their sprinkled delight).

At this week's NW location for the Round-Up, our son (former Arizona Inn Sous Chef) joined us.  He raved about the Cuban Sandwich and moon pies.  He and my hubby (photographer), enjoyed pork and chicken tacos from a truck I am sorry to report I didn't get info on or photos of---next time! For my meal, I savored a goat cheese, arugula, apple and pear spread sandwich (to me, I thought it was a panini but it wasn't billed that way:  see photo of sandwich and food truck with chalkboard menu) from Foodie Fleet.  This time for dessert we tried a creme brulee (which our son said was light and creamy--comparable to the Inn's) and we had an amazing chocolate peanut butter cup (see photo) that was rich and thick with peanut butter and creamy dark chocolate.  We totally lucked out with weather since it rained right before we got there and, with the breeze, it was a comfortable 82 degrees.  More folks were at this event than the location on Grant Rd. in May--families with kiddies, just-off-work professionals, and "other" like us. Plenty of tables and chairs (and even a pop-up tent space) were available.  Again, as last time, folks we met were in the mood for fun, casual conversation and, of course, food.

Have yourself some fun and food and enjoy this Tucson event next time it comes around.  These Round-Ups are another "brightspot" of life!

Contact for Jamie's Bitchen Kitchen; Foodie Fleet; Street Delights; Pin-Up Pastries

Friday, June 29, 2012

another brightspot: Cinema La Placita

These shots, taken by my hubby-photographer, are from last night's showing of the James Bond classic, Goldfinger at Cinema La Placita, downtown Tucson.  For $3.00 per person you have admission to the movie, all the popcorn you can eat, and the ambience of a friendly summer Tucson crowd.  Interested in how this "brightspot" was created?  Read more, based on and AnitaWrites interview with Cinema La Placita's founder, Erika O'Dowd.

Erika, a Tucson native, lived in New York City for three years and went to the free Monday night movies in Bryant Park.  She enjoyed the "mingling with others" and "shared experiences" that happened when people "checked in every week."  When she returned home, she learned that the DeAnza Drive-In was closing and started to inquire about the idea of a downtown community movie event.  At the time, she was working as Marketing Director for La Placita Village and was asked to create a "signature weekly event" for La Placita.  Thus, the beginning of the event in 2000.  They operated under the umbrella of several Tucson organizations:  Community Partnership for Southern Arizona, The Loft Cinema and Tucson Meet Yourself and, in 2011, became their own nonprofit.  In the beginning, they offered free reel-to-reel movies, but bought their own digital equipment six years ago which encouraged intermissions, donations and mingling.  Rental costs also required the affordable admission requests.  The overall goal of Cinema La Placita is to "create an experience that is not the same as watching a movie at home or at another theatre," according to Erika and adding, "come late, leave early, but don't go home after work or do go home but come back out...don't stay in your cubicle." 
And what about the threat of monsoons in the summer spoiling the movie fun or other mishaps?  Erika described one night, during the showing of "The Yellow Submarine", it started to rain but folks didn't want to leave, so they put the movie screen under a building overhang and the show went on.  Another time, the screen fell down and her husband (who also works the popcorn stand with Erika) and the movie's sponsor had to hold up the screen.  She now has kids who came with their parents and help out with volunteer tasks or put on hand puppet shows during the intermission.  Erika envisions a future where the Cinema can do "more stuff with different organizations, explore different genres and themes, build in more volunteers."  The organization also partners with Downtown Tucson's 2nd Saturdays:  "it's taken on a life of its own", she says, "people feel like they've discovered it."
So, put Cinema La Placita on your calendar.  Make Thursday nights an early summer start for your weekend and make Cinema La Placita a "brightspot"in your life.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Grant Road and Social Capital

This (draft) article was written for publication in Trend Report, 5/11 as part of a special issue featuring The Grant Road Improvement Project.  I am posting it here because, this Thursday, 6/28, 6 p.m. at Pima College, Downtown Campus, there is an Open House, celebrating the construction of the first phase and intersection of this project.  The published article had some editing changes, but this draft is close to the final version.

Early and continuing outreach leads to successful public engagement in major roadway project

Developing public trust and building social capital for a project as large and controversial as Grant Road is a challenging process. In addition to this challenge, these elements are not traditionally included in transportation planning that is convened by government and design professionals. The Grant Road Improvement Plan is a project that has demonstrated how including elements of public engagement can lead to a successful project and gain public trust and support for the necessary improvements and for the public agencies involved.

In 2006, former City of Tucson Department of Transportation, Deputy Director, Andrew Singelakis promoted a “context sensitive” approach to roadway improvement planning which involved the public in framing the overall design process for the improvement of Grant Road, one of Tucson’s busiest and largest cross town arterials. This approach was an excellent example of public participation and, to a lesser degree, of public engagement.  In public involvement, the public takes a role in providing input to a design process.  In public participation the public recommends final design decisions and in public engagement, the public has an opportunity to actually implement some, if not all, of the approved design decisions. 

Soon after the voters approved the 2006 Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) plan the City of Tucson took a proactive approach to engaging the public by convening Community Conversations, working with Community Renaissance with assistance from University of Arizona Planning Program graduate students. The City of Tucson invited the public to participate in sessions of small, structured conversations which gathered their stories and memories in words and pictures of the history of Grant Road.  This effort created a sense of place for Grant Road and shaped community language for the project.  One specific example of the language shift was changing the way Grant Road was referred to as a “corridor” to a “roadway.”  The public did not share the technical perspective of Grant Road as a means to move cars from here to there, similar to a hallway between rooms.  Rather, they saw the area as a roadway, capturing the early history of Grant Road as the original dirt road to Mt. Lemmon which connected fruit and flower orchards to the University and to lodgings for patients with tuberculosis.  The public also expressed a community-based interest in implementing doable, neighborhood and business-based improvement projects for the roadway. For example, they offered to help with maintenance of improved medians and buffer zones, and to help design public art and lighting improvements.  These were actions of an engaged public, not just a public who had participated in workshops or conversations. The outcome of these conversations became the framework for the City of Tucson’s request for proposals for the planning and design of Grant Road.

Kimley-Horn and Associates was the engineering firm awarded the project. They contracted with Community Design and Architecture of Oakland, CA. With their combined backgrounds in the Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) approach to roadway planning a continuation of public participation methods was included in planning the future Grant Road. Kaneen Advertising and Public Relations was contracted to do public education and participation for the project and carried forth many of these methods.  Community Renaissance was retained to develop (and sometimes advocate for) public participation methods that continued to provide opportunities for public engagement. 

Public engagement is not a community behavior that can be produced by a community project, but the elements necessary to provide opportunities for engagement can be developed and encouraged.  Public trust and social capital are two key elements for public engagement, and are necessary for effective public involvement and public participation.  Early in the development of the Grant Road Improvement Plan, the planning team set a goal of establishing public trust by demonstrating reiterative feedback with the public, the project Citizen Task Force, and the planning team.  Documented public comments from public workshops and Task Force meetings illustrate early 2007 public attitudes as they shifted from mistrust of the planning team and the City of Tucson with the project design process to their current 2011 public attitudes of improved public trust.

The demonstration of improved social capital in the geographic areas surrounding key intersections along Grant Road was illustrated by a matrix developed by the planning team.  This matrix was used to assist the Citizen Task Force in making their decision to identify the reconstruction phasing for the first construction project for Grant Road. Social capital is defined by the World Bank as “norms and networks that enable collective action.”

Yes, the building of public trust and social capital is a challenging process.  It is also a fragile one and can easily be frayed by community tensions.  These positive community character elements, generated by the Grant Road Improvement Plan, can be the complementary goals to other transportation and planning processes.  For example, the year old Imagine Greater Tucson effort has incorporated the practice of community conversations into their first planning phase and is focusing future strategies on multiple ways to expand regional community involvement to include public participation and engagement.  Designing Grant Road has been an intentional plan for building community.  The project’s continued success depends on a deeper understanding and support for the connection between a roadway and the people whose lives are connected through it.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Two BrightSpots

Sometimes, we have to go looking for brightspots or at least keep ourselves open to their possibility. Here are two for me to share this week:

1.  Primavera Foundation
 and their continued amazing work in South Tucson that not only includes the efforts they have done for years to help improve the lives of homeless individuals and families, but also their ongoing rehab, community gardens, watershed management, buffalo grass and (most recent) manufactured housing with LEED certification dealership!  Talk about walking the talk, this group does it.  Add to that their support of restorative justice workshops (with the UA College of Law) and partnership with Habitat for Humanity which is my #2 brightspot. 

2.  My hubby and I volunteered for two hours yesterday at the Tucson Chamber of Commerce Biz Expo, helping Habitat spread the word about their housing program and the continued success of the HabiStore.  If you want to experience some of the light from their efforts, there are two housing dedications coming up:  June 14, 9 a.m. at 2224 S. Hiram Banks Court and June 21, 9 a.m. at 2880 N. Balboa.  They can always use more volunteers and sponsors.

So shine a little light in your life and mine--share some of your recent brightspots!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Tucson Food Truck RoundUp on Grant Road

For months, I have been reading about the Food Truck Roundup events popping up at different locations and this week, my hubby and I tried the one on Grant Road, outside The Shelter bar.  I guess, compared to other locations, the six or seven trucks (and cycle icepop) was a small gathering, but we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  We had pecan-roasted chicken wings from one truck; a stuffed hummus and vegetable wrap and Cuban sandwich from another, topped off with Pin-Up Pastries' "moon pies" (one, vanilla, one, salted caramel).  All the food was reasonably priced and tasty. 

Here are two photos from the RoundUp--another BrightSpot I am featuring.  Besides the food, chatting with other Tucsonans at well-shaded tables also offered us the opportunity to connect with other foodie-free-spirits on a hot Thursday night.  We'll return for another RoundUp soon!