The most ambitious urban design concepts rarely make the leap from disk and paper to brick and mortar.
The problem is finding an undeveloped section of urban land large enough to apply modern planning principles such as the integration of natural setting, desired lifestyle and diversity of land use, according to a group of experts hired by developer DMB Associates to envision the future of southeast Mesa.
DMB recently acquired the East Valley’s last remaining blank urban slate of significant size when it purchased 3,200 acres of dirt and asphalt track from automobile manufacturer General Motors.
The Mesa Proving Ground, southeast of Elliot and Ellsworth roads, will be released from its time capsule in 2009 after more than a half-century during which it has become encased in urban sprawl, or as architect Vernon Swaback described it, “a celebration of a lack of commitment.”
Swaback was one of three urban design gurus whose talents DMB showcased Tuesday at the Mesa Arts Center for a discussion about the principles guiding its Mesa Proving Ground redevelopment.
Swaback, architect A. Jim Tinson and zoning attorney Grady Gammage Jr., gushed enthusiasm about the unusual planning assignment.
“You may not see exactly what you would dream of for the Mesa Proving Ground, and that’s exactly as it should be,” Swaback said.
DMB is hoping to submit a plan for the area to Mesa officials in the spring, company general manager John Bradley said, followed by a request for annexation of the Maricopa County land into the city.
The company is hoping a series of public input sessions and high-level discussions with experts will produce plans for a community unlike any the East Valley — or the world — has ever seen.
Tinson, of New York architectural firm Hart Howerton, gave the most substantive presentation, explaining how the Mesa Proving Ground site will be interspersed with a variety of land uses including housing, employment, government and recreation.
“These are complete environments,” he said about the products of “placemaking,” the latest buzzword in urban planning. “These are places, not projects.”
Tinson said the proving ground area will become a new urban center for the East Valley, an inspired and inspiring mix of jobs, housing of varied density and a multitude of cultural and recreational opportunities.
But creating such a place will be difficult, Tinson said, because it requires time, money and unwavering commitment — but he said the result would be worth it.
“You don’t want something that looks like you dumped it out of a box and added water, and all of a sudden you’ve got an instant place,” Tinson said.
What Tuesday’s discussion lacked was any talk of specifics such as what portion of the proving ground area would be covered by homes, shopping areas, parks or employment centers.
“You will notice we haven’t unveiled a plan,” Gammage said. “We’re not there yet.”