Tucson (pronounced /ˈtuːsɒn/) is a city in and the county seat of Pima County, Arizona, United States, located 118 miles (188 km) southeast of Phoenix and 60 miles (98 km) north of the U.S.-Mexico border. As of July 1, 2006, a Census Bureau estimate puts the city’s population at 541,811, with a metropolitan area population at 1,023,320 as of July 1, 2008. In 2005, Tucson ranked as the 32nd largest city and 52nd largest metropolitan area in the United States. It is the largest city in southern Arizona and the second largest in the state. Tucson is home to the University of Arizona.
Major incorporated suburbs of Tucson include Oro Valley and Marana northwest of the city, Sahuarita south of the city, and South Tucson in an enclave south of downtown. Communities in the vicinity of Tucson (some within or overlapping the city limits) include Casas Adobes, Catalina, Catalina Foothills, Flowing Wells, Green Valley, Tanque Verde, New Pascua, Vail and Benson.
The English name Tucson derives from the Spanish name of the city, Tucsón [tukˈson], which was borrowed from the O’odham name Cuk Ṣon [tʃʊk ʂɔːn], meaning “(at the) base of the black [hill]”, a reference to an adjacent volcanic mountain. Tucson is sometimes referred to as “The Old Pueblo”.
Tucson, as seen from space. The four major malls are indicated by blue arrows.According to the United States Census Bureau, Tucson has a total area of 195.1 square miles (505.3 km²), of which 194.7 square miles (504.2 km²) is land and 0.4 square miles (1.1 km²) (0.22%) is water.
The city’s elevation is 2,389 ft (728 m) above sea level. Tucson is situated on an alluvial plain in the Sonoran desert, surrounded by five minor ranges of mountains: the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Tortolita Mountains to the north, the Santa Rita Mountains to the south, the Rincon Mountains to the east, and the Tucson Mountains to the west. The high point of the Santa Catalina Mountains is 9,157-foot (2,791 m) Mount Lemmon, the southernmost ski destination in the continental U.S., while the Tucson Mountains include 4,687-foot (1,429 m) Wasson Peak.
Tucson is noted for its abundant saguaros that, on rare occasions, are covered with light snow. The city is located on the Santa Cruz River, formerly a perennial river but now a dry river bed for much of the year (called a “wash” locally) that floods during significant seasonal rains. The Santa Cruz becomes a subterranean stream for part of the year.
Tucson is located along Interstate 10, which runs through Phoenix toward Santa Monica, California in the northwest, and through El Paso, Texas, and New Orleans, Louisiana, toward Jacksonville, Florida in the east. I-19 runs south from Tucson toward Nogales and the U.S.-Mexico border. I-19 is the only Interstate highway that uses “kilometer posts” instead of “mileposts”, although the speed limits are marked in miles per hour instead of kilometers per hour.
Tucson is considered to be in a natural location for the development of a solar energy community, but the city has not yet adopted solar power in any significant way. Perhaps the biggest sustainability problem is potable water supply. Household water use is the principal drain on the water supply, with agriculture a close second. In 1997, the 35 golf courses in the area consumed about 10 percent of the municipal water supply, and since then, 16 of the remaining 25 or so courses use reclaimed water.
As a result, residences consume the vast majority of municipal water. Like golf courses, agricultural lands are turning toward reclaimed water. Mining and other industrial water uses combined accounted for about a 15 percent of water use in 1997. Although Tucsonans find lawns less acceptable than their neighbors in Phoenix, massive drawing down of groundwater resources over the last 100 years has occurred, visible as ground subsidence in some residential areas.
Tucson’s reliance on the Central Arizona Project Aqueduct, which passes more than 300 miles (480 km) across the desert from the Colorado River, casts doubt over “sustainability” claims even at current population levels. This points to the need for further efforts at re-use, recycling, and storage and use of rainfall, prompted by Pima County and the city in numerous outreach campaigns.
More than 100 years ago, the Santa Cruz River flowed nearly year-round through Tucson. This supply of water has slowly disappeared, causing Tucson to seek alternative sources.
From 1803 until 1887, Tucson residents purchased water for a penny a gallon from vendors who transported it in bags draped over burros’ backs. After that, water was sold by the bucket or barrel and delivered door-to-door in wagons.
In 1881, water was pumped from a well on the banks of the Santa Cruz River and flowed by gravity through pipes into the distribution system.
Tucson currently draws water from two main sources: Central Arizona Project (CAP) water and groundwater. In 1992, Tucson Water delivered CAP water to some customers that was referred to as being unacceptable due to discoloration, bad odor and flavor, as well as problems it caused some customers’ plumbing and appliances. Tucson’s city water currently consists of CAP water mixed with groundwater.
In an effort to conserve water, Tucson is recharging groundwater supplies by running part of its share of CAP water into various open portions of local rivers to seep into their aquifer. Additional study is scheduled to determine the amount of water that is lost through evaporation from the open areas, especially during the summer.
Similar to many other cities in the Western U.S., Tucson was developed on a grid plan starting in the late 1800s, with the city center at Stone Avenue and Broadway Boulevard. While this intersection was initially near the geographic center of Tucson, that center has shifted as the city has expanded far to the east, development to the west being effectively blocked by the Tucson Mountains. An expansive city covering substantial area, Tucson has many distinct neighborhoods.
View of downtown Tucson from “A” Mountain in 2008. Santa Catalina Mountains to left in the background, Rincon Mountains to far right. This section needs additional citations for verification.
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As of the late 2000s, downtown Tucson is undergoing a revitalization effort by city planners and the business community. The primary project is Rio Nuevo, a large retail and community center that has been stalled in planning for more than ten years. Downtown is generally classified as north of 22nd Street, east of I-10, and southwest of Toole Avenue and the Union Pacific (formerly Southern Pacific) railroad tracks, site of the historic train depot and “Locomotive #1673”, built in 1900. Downtown is divided into the Presidio District, Convention District, and the Congress Street Arts and Entertainment District.
The recently restored Fox Theater is in downtown Tucson.Tucson’s tallest building, the 23-story UniSource Energy Tower is situated downtown and was completed in 1986. The planned Sheraton Convention Center Hotel would surpass the Bank Building at 25-28 stories. The downtown Sheraton will sit next to the Tucson Convention Center on the east edge of Granada Avenue. The hotel will be built in conjunction with an expansion of the TCC. Other high-rise buildings downtown include Bank of America Plaza, and the Pioneer (completed in 1914).
Pima County Courthouse with more modern government buildings in the backgroundAttractions downtown include the Hotel Congress designed in 1919, the Art Deco Fox Theater designed in 1929, the Rialto Theatre opened in 1920, and St. Augustine Cathedral completed in 1896. Included on the National Register of Historic Places is the old Pima County Courthouse, designed by Roy W. Place in 1928. The El Charro Café, Tucson’s oldest restaurant, also operates its main location downtown.
Central or Midtown
As one of the oldest parts of town, Central Tucson is anchored by the Broadway Village shopping center designed by local architect Josias Joesler at the intersection of Broadway Boulevard and Country Club Road. The 4th Avenue Shopping District between downtown and the University and the Lost Barrio just East of downtown also have many unique and popular stores. Local retail business in Central Tucson is densely concentrated along Fourth Avenue and the Main Gate Square on University Boulevard near the UA campus. The El Con Mall is also located in the eastern part of midtown.
The University of Arizona, chartered in 1885, is located in midtown and includes Arizona Stadium and McKale Center. Historic Tucson High School (designed in 1924) featured in the 1987 film Can’t Buy Me Love, the Arizona Inn (built in 1930), and the Tucson Botanic Gardens are also located in Central Tucson.
Old Main, University of ArizonaTucson’s largest park, Reid Park is located in midtown and includes Reid Park Zoo and Hi Corbett Field. Speedway Boulevard, a major east-west arterial road in central Tucson, was named the “ugliest street in America” by Life magazine in the early 1970s, quoting Tucson Mayor James Corbett. Despite this, Speedway Boulevard was awarded “Street of the Year” by Arizona Highways in the late 1990s.
Central Tucson is bicycle-friendly. To the east of the University of Arizona, E. Third Street is bike-only except for local traffic and passes by the historic homes of the Sam Hughes neighborhood. To the west, E. University Boulevard leads to the Fourth Avenue Shopping District. To the North, N. Mountain Avenue has a full bike-only lane for half of the 3.5 miles (5.6 km) to the Rillito River Park bike and walk multi-use path. To the south, N. Highland Avenue leads to the Barraza-Aviation Parkway bicycle path.
South side and South Tucson
Tucson International Airport when it was under renovationThe South side contains the city of South Tucson, with an area of approximately 1¼ square miles (3¼ square kilometers), which is completely surrounded by the city of Tucson. The South side is generally considered to be the area of approximately 25 square miles (65 square kilometers) north of Los Reales Road, south of 22nd Street, east of I-19, west of Davis Monthan Air Force Base and southwest of Aviation Parkway. Much of Tucson’s Mexican-American population live on the south side and South 12th Avenue is considered as the cultural locus of the working class Mexican-American population. The Tucson International Airport and Tucson Electric Park are also located here.
South Tucson has been struggling heavily with high crime rates. According to adjusted Morgan Quitno statistics, South Tucson (as a standalone city) has more than four times the United States average in larceny, theft and assault.
West Tucson is a combination of urban and suburban development. Generally defined as the area west of I-10, West Tucson encompasses the banks of the Santa Cruz River and the foothills of the Tucson Mountains. Attractions in West Tucson include Saguaro National Park West, Sentinel Peak, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Old Tucson Studios, and the Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa.
Mountain lion at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Panorama of western suburbsOn Sentinel Peak (also known as “‘A’ Mountain”), just west of downtown, there is a giant “A” in honor of the University of Arizona. Starting in about 1910, a yearly tradition developed for freshmen to whitewash the “A”, which was visible for miles. However, at the beginning of the Iraq War, anti-war activists painted it black. This was followed by a paint scuffle where the “A” was painted various colors until the city council intervened. It is now red, white and blue except when it is white or another color decided by a biennial election. Because of the three-color paint scheme often used, the shape of the A can be vague and indistinguishable from the rest of the peak. The top of Sentinel Peak, which is accessible by road, offers an outstanding scenic view of the city looking eastward. A parking lot located near the summit of Sentinel Peak was formerly a popular place to watch sunsets, view the city lights at night, or engage in necking. This is no longer possible as a recent ordinance has forced the closing of Sentinel Peak at 8 p.m. Every evening, Tucson police set up a barricade blocking the entrance while they enforce the evacuation of all visitors off the mountain.
North Tucson includes the urban neighborhoods of Amphitheater and Flowing Wells. Usually considered the area north of Fort Lowell Road, north Tucson includes some of Tucson’s primary commercial zones (Tucson Mall and the Oracle Road Corridor). Many of the city’s most upscale boutiques, restaurants, and art galleries are also located on the north side including St. Philip’s Plaza. The Plaza is directly adjacent to the historic St. Philip’s in the Hills Episcopal Church (built in 1936).
Also on the north side is the suburban community of Catalina Foothills, located in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains just north of the city limits. This community includes among the area’s most expensive homes, sometimes multi-million dollar estates. The Foothills area is generally defined as north of River Road, east of Oracle Road, and west of Sabino Creek. Some of the Tucson area’s major resorts are located in the Catalina Foothills, including the Hacienda Del Sol, Westin La Paloma Resort, Loews Ventana Canyon Resort and Canyon Ranch Resort. La Encantada, an upscale outdoor shopping mall, is also in the Foothills.
The foothills area is home to Tohono Chul Park (a botanical garden) near the intersection of Oracle Road and Ina. Also the DeGrazia Gallery of the Sun near the intersection of Swan Road and Skyline Drive. Built by artist Ted DeGrazia starting in 1951, the 10-acre (40,000 m2) property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and features an eclectic chapel, an art gallery and a free museum.
East Tucson is relatively new compared to other parts of the city, developed between the 1950s and the 1970s, such as Desert Palms Park. It is generally classified as the area of the city east of Swan Road, with above-average real estate values relative to the rest of the city. The area includes urban and suburban development near the Rincon Mountains. East Tucson includes Saguaro National Park East. Tucson’s “Restaurant Row” is also located on the east side, along with a significant corporate and financial presence. Tucson’s largest office building is 5151 East Broadway in east Tucson, completed in 1975. Park Place, a recently renovated shopping center, is also located there.
Near the intersection of Craycroft and Ft. Lowell Road are the remnants of the Historic Fort Lowell. This area has become one of Tucson’s iconic neighborhoods. The Fort abandoned at the end of the 1800s was rediscovered by a trio of artists in the 1930s. The Bolsius family Pete, Nan and Charles Bolsius purchased and renovated surviving adobe buildings of the Fort – transforming them into spectacular artistic southwestern architectural examples. Their woodwork, plaster treatment and sense of proportion drew on their Dutch heritage and New Mexican experience. Other artists and academics throughout the middle of the 20th century, including: Win Ellis, Jack Maul, Madame Cheruy, Giorgio Belloli, Charels Bode, Veronica Hughart, Edward and Rosamond Spicer, and Ruth Brown, renovated adobes, built homes and lived in the area. This rural pocket in the middle of the city is listed on the National register of Historic Places. Each year in February the neighborhood celebrates its history in the City Landmark it owns and restored the San Pedro Chapel.
Situated between the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Rincon Mountains near Redington Pass northeast of the city limits is the community of Tanque Verde. The Arizona National Golf Club, Forty-Niners Country Club, and the historic Tanque Verde Guest Ranch are also in northeast Tucson.
Retired B-52s are stored in the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
Southeast Tucson continues to experience rapid residential development. The area includes Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The area is considered to be south of Golf Links Road. The suburban community of Rita Ranch houses many of the military families from Davis-Monthan. It is the home of Santa Rita High School, Lakeside Park, Charles Ford Park, Lakeside Lake, Lincoln Park (upper and lower), The Lakecrest Neighborhoods, and Pima Community College East Campus. The Atterbury Wash with its access to excellent bird watching is also located in the Southeast Tucson area.
The expansive area northwest of the city limits is diverse, ranging from the rural communities of Catalina and parts of the town of Marana, to the affluent town of Oro Valley in the western foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, and residential areas in the northeastern foothills of the Tucson Mountains. The community of Casas Adobes is also on the Northwest Side, with the distinction of being Tucson’s first suburb, established in the late 1940s. Casas Adobes is centered on the historic Casas Adobes Plaza (built in 1948). The Foothills Mall is also located on the northwest side. Continental Ranch (Marana), Dove Mountain (Marana), and Rancho Vistoso (Oro Valley) are all masterplanned communities located in the Northwest, where thousands of residents live.
Many of the Tucson area’s golf courses and resorts are located in this area, including the Hilton El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort in Oro Valley, the Omni Tucson National Resort & Spa, and Westward Look Resort. The Ritz Carlton at Dove Mountain, the second Ritz Carlton Resort in Arizona, which also includes a golf course, opened in the foothills of the Tortolita Mountains in northeast Marana in 2009. Catalina State Park and Tortolita Mountain Park are also located in the Northwest area.
Tucson has a desert climate (Koppen Bwh), with two major seasons, summer and winter; plus three minor seasons: fall, spring, and the monsoon. Though desert climates are defined as reigions that receive less than 9.8 inches (248.9 mm) of precipitation per year, Tucson still qualifies due to its high evapotranspiration in spite of receiving 11.8 inches (299.7 mm) of precipitation per year; in other words, it experiences a high net loss of water.. A similar scenario is seen in Alice Springs, Australia which averages 11 inches (279.4 mm) a year, but has a desert climate.
The most obvious difference of climate from most other inhabited regions is the extremely hot and sunny climate. This difference is a major contributing factor to a rate of skin cancer that is at least 3 times higher than in more northerly regions.
Summer is characterized by low humidity, clear skies, and daytime high temperatures that exceed 100 °F (37 °C). The average overnight temperature ranges between 66 °F (19 °C) and 85 °F (29 °C).
The monsoon can begin any time from mid-June to late July, with an average start date around July 3. It typically continues through August and sometimes into September. During the monsoon, the humidity is much higher than the rest of the year. It begins with clouds building up from the south in the early afternoon followed by intense thunderstorms and rainfall, which can cause flash floods. The evening sky at this time of year is often pierced with dramatic lightning strikes. Large areas of the city do not have storm sewers, so monsoon rains flood the main thoroughfares, usually for no longer than a few hours. A few underpasses in Tucson have “feet of water” scales painted on their supports to discourage fording by automobiles during a rainstorm. Arizona traffic code Title 28-910, the so-called “Stupid Motorist Law”, was instituted in 1995 to discourage people from entering flooded roadways. If the road is flooded and a barricade is in place, motorists who drive around the barricade can be charged up to $2000 for costs involved in rescuing them.
The weather in the fall is much like that during spring: dry, with cool nights and warm to hot days. Temperatures above 100 degrees occur into early October. Average daytime highs of 84 °F (28 °C), with overnight lows of 55 °F (13 °C), are typical in the fall, with mean daily temperatures falling more rapidly from October to December.
Winters in Tucson are mild relative to other parts of the United States. Daytime highs in the winter range between 64 °F (18 °C) and 75 °F (24 °C), with overnight lows between 30 °F (−1 °C) and 44 °F (7 °C). Although rare, snow has been known to fall in Tucson, usually a light dusting that melts within a day.
Early spring is characterized by gradually rising temperatures and several weeks of vivid wildflower blooms beginning in late February and into March. Daytime average highs range from 72 °F (23 °C) in March to 88 °F (31 °C) in May with average overnight lows in March of 45 °F (7 °C) and in May of 59 °F (15 °C).
At the University of Arizona, where records have been kept since 1894, the record maximum temperature was 115°F on June 19, 1960, and July 28, 1995, and the record minimum temperature was 6°F on January 7, 1913. There are an average of 150.1 days annually with highs of 90°F (32°C) or higher and an average of 26.4 days with lows of 32°F (0°C) or lower. Average annual precipitation is 11.15 inches. There is an average of 49 days with measurable precipitation. The wettest year was 1905 with 24.17 inches and the driest year was 1924 with 5.07 inches. The most precipitation in one month was 7.56 inches in July 1984. The most precipitation in 24 hours was 4.16 inches on October 1, 1983. Annual snowfall averages 0.7 inches. The most snow in one year was 7.2 inches in 1987. The most snow in one month was 6.0 inches in January 1898 and March 1922.
At the airport, where records have been kept since 1930, the record maximum temperature was 117°F on June 26, 1990, and the record minimum temperature was 16°F on January 4, 1949. There is an average of 145.0 days annually with highs of 90°F (32°C) or higher and an average of 16.9 days with lows of 32°F (0°C) or lower. Average annual precipitation is 11.59 inches. Measurable precipitation falls on an average of 53 days. The wettest year was 1983 with 21.86 inches of precipitation, and the driest year was 1953 with 5.34 inches. The most rainfall in one month was 7.93 inches in August 1955. The most rainfall in 24 hours was 3.93 inches on July 29, 1958. Snow at the airport averages only 1.1 inch annually. The most snow received in one year was 8.3 inches and the most snow in one month was 6.8 inches in December 1971.
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