Hello, Flagstaff! It was recently reported that Arizona is one of the fastest growing states in the country. As I travel around the state, growth is something I talk about with leaders from Tucson to Prescott and everywhere in between.
Flagstaff has been growing at a steady rate of 1-2 percent a year for some time now. People grow their families, people graduate from Northern Arizona University and stay here, people take jobs and move here because it really is a wonderful place to live. With new people comes more cars on the road, and a higher demand for housing, but it also brings new ideas, new businesses, diversity and fresh energy. These are all things that make a town vibrant and thriving.
Flagstaff is growing. This is our reality. The question facing us is how do we grow. Thus far, there has been no real, effective plan for growth. Developers build according to the zoning rights associated with the property that they purchased. Outside of a zoning change request, government has limited tools in which to encourage developers to build homes that working families can afford. And even though we see 100,000 cars driving through our city daily, we haven’t sufficiently upgraded our transportation infrastructure since we were a little village up in the mountains.
Flagstaff has a traffic problem. Flagstaff also has a housing shortage. These all contribute to a cost of living problem that has plagued Flagstaff for years. I firmly believe that this community needs to be more accessible for families, single parents and workers. As it stands, Flagstaff is on its way to becoming a town for the wealthy and students, and this is not what we want. The status quo for decades has been to fight any and all growth, say no to all development, to essentially demand that “the gate be locked” now that “we” are here. The result has been that growth has steadily continued and wedged itself into existing neighborhoods, whether it suits the neighborhood or not.
We have the regional plan that provides a vision of our community and we have the zoning code that provides the regulatory frame in which development can happen. What we need to do is fuse the two together and work in an intentional, deliberate manner to manage the lands that we have available in a way that works to benefit our community.
We can create a multi-pronged, comprehensive plan to direct appropriate growth where we would like to see it, we can use public policy to open up access to areas in which higher density neighborhoods can be established, incorporating all of the aspects that we cherish as detailed in our regional plan; we can ensure that sustainability is built into the plan, with bike paths, buses, water conservation and climate change addressed from the start.
Our historic neighborhoods make Flagstaff special. They should be protected. Traffic needs to be managed. We all need to be able to get to school and work, and no one wants cars cutting through neighborhoods. The fact is, the growth is already here. People are already here, hence, the housing crisis. Hence the traffic on Milton. The question is whether we have the political will to make the hard choices and start planning now for the next 10, 20, 50 years. That planning should include new roads, new bike and Flagstaff Urban Trails System (FUTS) trails, new dedicated bus lanes and new neighborhoods with affordable homes for families, single parents and workers. FBN
By Coral Evans
Coral Evans is the mayor of the City of Flagstaff.