Udall Center Fellows Talk

Dance Without Cease: Real Estate Speculation, the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, and the Production and Destruction of Space in Southern Arizona


1 p.m., Oct. 19, 2020


Prof. Thomas Sheridan will be presenting his work as a Udall Center Fellow, followed by a question-and- answer session. The Udall Center Fellows Program offers a semester off from normal teaching to allow for creative scholarship and pursuit of funds to further the Fellow’s research. Click here to learn more about the Udall Center Fellows Program.

Critical geographer David Harvey wrote, “The inner contradictions of capitalism are expressed through the restless formation and re-formation of geographical landscapes. This is the tune to which the historical geography of capitalism must dance without cease” (Harvey 1985:150). After the Second World War, metropolitan Tucson’s population grew explosively while its population density actually declined because consumers demanded single-family homes on larger lots. Real estate speculators and developers built residential subdivisions not only on the margins of metro Tucson but leapfrogged those suburbs to create exurbs, usually on the private lands of ranches, gobbling up 5,000 acres of desert a year. By the late 1990s, however, a broad coalition of environmentalists, neighborhood associations, and scientists came together to fight developments like Canoa Ranch and provide political support for Pima County to craft its visionary Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan (SDCP). Ironically, one of the spaces under siege by real estate development—working ranches, the most extensive land use in southern Arizona since the 1870s— became one of the primary means by which Pima County preserved biodiversity and open space. In the process, older notions of space were incorporated into a radical new production of space—the Conservation Land System—as the SDCP brought hundreds of scientists, government officials, environmentalists, neighborhood activists, ranchers, and realtors together in perhaps the most ambitious process of collaborative conservation and environmental conflict resolution in the nation.