Tucson is a lot more than the next real estate development, the next fight about saving this or that place, and the next fight within the local business community about who isn’t doing enough to improve the economy.
All the committees, commissions and organizations trying to make Tucson a better place seem to miss the core issue. Tucson is blessed with a lot of very creative people. And I don’t mean just artists and musicians. Tucsonans create lots of things from political movements to new businesses.
The real problem limiting Tucson’s potential is that the creative community is constantly thwarted instead of being enabled.
The really exciting places around the country such as Silicon Valley and Austin which are thriving financially and culturally have a highly interactive support community that enables the creators of new hardware, software, political movements, and artistic expressions to flourish. The core assets of these areas are not climate or landscape…it is their amalgamation of people.
One of the key ingredients missing in Tucson is a source of debt or equity capital for something other than another shopping center or subdivision. There needs to be a pool of money locally available so someone who has figured out the better mousetrap can take that creation into production and create new jobs here. Or open a recording studio. Or translate their idea to reality. Over and over I’ve heard stories of really creative folks that came up with something newer and better being bought out and their creations taken somewhere else to grow and create jobs.
If folks are going to support buying land around the community to preserve open spaces, why not also support a venture fund to generate new economic and artistic developments in the area?
A second element is wrapped around the concept of “intellectual property”. In order for a creation to generate value and then jobs, it has to be owned and licensed. There is no functional intellectual property support community in Tucson outside of the U of A, which looks after its own. There are just a handful of lawyers, for example, proficient in copyright, trademark and patent law around. There are lots of real estate lawyers, criminal defense lawyers, bankruptcy lawyers and divorce lawyers in the town. Says a lot about the state of today’s economy.
A third element is space. The wonderful warehouse arts district that emerged around downtown Tucson was a function of cheap space that became available when the big road project around downtown stalled. It was sheer luck that so many square feet of cheap warehouse space opened up so an arts community could flourish. This is slowly being wiped out as the warehouse district is turned into another Tucson real estate deal.
Cheap space to start up an art effort or a new business is essential to “incubating” new creative ventures. Instead, the focus is on costly code compliance which reduces incubation opportunities. There needs to be a conscious effort to keep a good supply of affordable creative incubation space available in the area.
A fourth element is taking pride in local creativity. Tucson has always struck me as very insecure about the quality of its own creative people…whether they be business or artistic in nature…always opting to go out of town for the “name” brand people.
Where do you think the current crowd of “name” brand people came from? They started in garages and warehouses and under-funded startups years ago somewhere else that encouraged and helped them grow. Rather than promote our own high quality talent, we diminish that talent by in effect saying “not good enough”. Wait a minute….for example….Tucson could be just as famous as a music center as Austin or Nashville. We have an amazing blend of modern, Latin and Native American musical heritage to blend and remake into a distinct “Tucson” sound.
One of the really defining characteristics of Tucson’s creative community is they love the region so much, they’ll stick it out a lot longer than most people in other areas because Tucson is a very special and spiritual place. That is an enormous asset which is unrecognized by business and political leaders.
It is time to quit thinking of Tucson as just another land development or just another fight about saving this or that place, and start cultivating the greatest asset of the region…Tucsonans.