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Reid Park Reimagined: Addressing Extreme Heat and Water Stress in the Sonoran Desert

Gene C. Reid Park Master Plan

City of Tucson Parks and Recreation
Tucson, AZ
131 acres
Landscape Architecture
Planning and Urban Design
Additional Services
Community Engagement
Completed 2023
American Society of Landscape Architecture (ASLA) Colorado/Wyoming Chapter, Merit Award in Analysis and Planning Category

The Reid Park master plan reimagined Tucson’s central park through a year-long process of bilingual public engagement to determine what Tucsonans want out of their city’s largest urban park. The resulting plan weaves heat and flood resilience into the park’s beloved community spaces while incorporating new recreational attractions. 

Gene C. Reid Park (Reid Park) serves a range of community recreational, ecological, and cultural purposes. Throughout the park’s history, new features were incrementally added to the park to meet the evolving needs of the community. Incremental growth without a larger comprehensive plan to guide individual projects resulted in a collection of features that are individually well-loved and used, but together lack a cohesive circulation network, infrastructural logic, or place identity. The master plan is designed to ensure that future improvements to Reid Park will help it evolve into a cohesive, functional, and efficiently planned and maintained amenity for all of Tucson that addresses the needs of a changing community, city, and climate.

Reid Park Reimagined: Robust Community Outreach

The Reid Park Reimagined engagement process was a citywide effort that was an integral part of the master plan. From the outset, the team and city wanted as many voices as possible to envision a park for Tucson that was authored by the people it will serve. To do so required a multifaceted engagement approach that involved digital communications, in-person events, surveys, stakeholder interviews, and one-on-one conversations, all of which were conducted in Spanish and English. The outreach resulted in four guiding principles that act as a common set of criteria with which to evaluate the success of the proposed plan and ensure that the reimagined park would be: 

Connecting Park Features with New Pedestrian Pathways

Reid Park master plan unites the park’s existing and new destinations with a central loop of pedestrian, biking and jogging lanes. Water is the major driver of the plan’s overall form. Existing water bodies at Barnum Hill are preserved and enhanced through restored vegetation and protection of banks. Flood mitigation features are realigned to expand the available area in the center of the park, improving circulation, and transforming the park into a naturalized landscape while creating new educational and recreational opportunities. The plan also seeks to better integrate the park with surrounding mobility infrastructure by creating welcoming gateways at the park’s corners and new parking facilities.

Harnessing Natural Desert Ecology to Build Resilience

The future Reid Park utilizes unique natural resources to create a cohesive central park for Tucson. In many parts of the American Southwest, climate change has intensified in a see-sawing pattern of scorching drought punctuated by unprecedented flooding. The plan is driven by its climate, efficiently using available water resources to create an oasis of shady groves, refreshing water features, and unique gardens punctuated by native plants inspired by the Sonoran Desert. The community’s desire for a more natural landscape directly reinforced the strategic goal of strengthening the park’s resilience, and the master plan bolsters the park’s resilience to these threats while expanding its role as an essential part of the surrounding city’s heat and flood resilience strategy.

At the Center of Tucson’s Green Infrastructure Network

Tucson’s green infrastructure is characterized by a network of rivers and washes (arroyos) with smaller patches of open space at major county and city parks. Its urban center is framed by two large rivers, the Rillito and Santa Cruz, and these riparian corridors connect the city to the surrounding wildlands. 

The park’s existing arroyo, Citation Wash, is realigned into a natural, meandering form that slows down flood waters and adds flood capacity for increased retention, infiltration and availability to surrounding native vegetation. Flooding is leveraged again at La Ciénega, a novel habitat inspired by the Sonoran’s vanishing vernal pools, which showcases plants and wildlife important to the Tucson community and connects people to nature through a series of boardwalks, bird blinds and educational overlooks. This bowl in the landscape directs water away from parking lots and pedestrian corridors and towards Citation Wash and turns intermittent flooding into a demonstration of local riparian wildlife that improves the park’s ecological performance.

Hydrology: Making Every Drop Count

Water conservation was an important goal of the city and community for the future of the park, but water use reduction should not come at the expense of the shade trees, water features and turf areas, which make Reid Park an oasis of community heat resilience and recreation. Rather, the team’s approach to water use was to ensure that every drop was dedicated to its best and highest use. Turf will be reduced and located where it is most important for recreation and events. With the realignment of Citation Wash and leveraging flooding at La Ciénega, topography is used to capture and direct water to vegetation. Water intensive non-native trees will be slowly replaced by regional species that provide more shade per gallon. Lastly, splash pads will recommit a water budget that was once dedicated to turf and focus it on a refreshing play feature. Water use is now directed to areas which will have  the highest impact on the heat resilience of vulnerable communities while also fostering healthy outdoor play and fitness.

For more information contact Anna Cawrse or Zachary Chrisco.

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