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Pinal County is exploding, and the long-anticipated merger of Phoenix and Tucson into one continuous metropolitan area seems to be at hand. A megapolitan region called the “Arizona Sun Corridor” is emerging, and Pinal is smack in the middle. Because of this dramatic state of affairs, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors decided to seize the initiative and kick off its comprehensive plan revision with — especially for a county — a relatively unusual visioning process. The board asked Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy to provide thoughts on three big questions:
• What would differentiate Pinal from other places in Arizona and across the country?
• What would ensure the livability and competitiveness of the cities and towns and the entire region?
• What would bring Pinal’s current and future residents together?
In Arizona, counties don’t usually ask these sorts of questions. But Pinal finds itself in the unusual position of exploding with growth, but without a dominant city within its boundaries. The greatest influences lie to the north and south, and the county itself is divided among a number of cities and towns.
As the report shows, Pinal has much to learn from the different circumstances and choices its neighbors to the north and south have made over time. Maricopa County today does not see itself as a major player in the urban planning and development business, and as a result, it issues relatively few permits for development. This county regards itself more in traditional terms, running the court system, the jail and the health department. In Maricopa County, the expectation is that sooner or later, population should be incorporated into new cities or annexed into existing ones. Pima, on the other hand, has accepted a role as a quasi-municipal government, and permits almost half the development in the area. Pima County has embraced far-reaching planning mechanisms more than any other Arizona county. Pinal’s pattern is not yet determined, and it has no Phoenix or Tucson driving the future in one direction or the other. That difference could mean avoiding a big mistake because decisions are made in small increments or losing out by simply perpetuating the status quo.
In addition to background data and comparisons to other counties in Arizona and the United States, the Morrison Institute presented a series of “cool tools” that could be used to achieve the desired outcomes and address the region’s challenges. The idea of the tools is to inspire the citizens of Pinal to think about potential decisions that could be made in the next few years, which over time could alter the “business as usual” trajectory of Arizona growth.
The intent of the tools is to motivate lively, forward-thinking regional discussions by Pinal’s residents and leaders to produce a comprehensive plan that will result in a “distinguishable destination” rather than a “McMega drive through.”
At its root, “The Future at Pinal” is not just about community building in the face of growth but about making valued, sustainable, and identifiable places for the state’s second 100 years — about making Pinal a place and not just a jurisdiction. “The Future at Pinal” underscores that good things will not come to those who wait, but rather to those who choose. Without wise choices, great places cannot happen.
“The Future at Pinal: Making Choices Making Places” is available at www.morrisoninstitute.org. See www.PinalCountyPlan.com for information on the comprehensive planning process.
Grady Gammage, Jr. is a senior research fellow at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

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