Where development occurs will have a lasting impact on our surrounding desert landscape. Tucson is located in the middle of one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world, known as the Sky Island region. In this environment, the wildlife depends on open space in-between mountain ranges in order to travel from one mountain, or “sky island”, to another. When development encroaches on these important wildlife linkages or corridors, the wildlife becomes isolated on individual mountain ranges, threatening the diversity of different species. Development that includes and respects nature is important for protecting the natural environment and maintaining our quality of life.

Development that occurs near existing infrastructure preserves valuable open space. Infill developments also lead to shorter vehicle trips for people to access services, and encourage people to utilize alternative modes of transportation. Urban green space is an important element of infill development. Incorporating green space into your development provides a place for people to connect with nature, recreational opportunities, and it helps mitigate the urban heat island effect. A well-planned site design can achieve these goals and add to the sustainability of the region. Explore the information below and visit the Business Tools: Green Building and Smart Growth page for more information about context sensitive development.

Land Development

The built environment can replace nature, or it can be integrated into and include nature. Choosing to integrate and include nature into new developments is important for our community for a number of reasons. Development that includes and respects nature protects the natural environment and maintains our quality of life. Incorporating green space into your development provides a place for people to connect with nature, recreational opportunities, and it helps mitigate the urban heat island effect.


Flexible Lot Development (FLD) option
The purpose of the Flexible Lot Development (FLD) option is to provide greater flexibility and creativity in the design of clustered residential development by:

A. Providing incentives to achieve community goals, such as historic and archaeological preservation, preservation of natural vegetation, barrier-free housing, development within low-income areas, and in-fill housing projects. B.Implementing the goals and objectives of the General Plan. C. Consolidating open space and providing for visual, and where achievable, physical connections to open space areas on adjacent properties. D. Efficiently using land and public facilities by means of a more economical arrangement of buildings, circulation systems, land uses, and utilities. E. Preserving to the greatest extent possible existing environmentally sensitive areas and landscape features and amenities, such as significant topography, protected peaks and ridges, natural vegetation, washes, riparian areas and floodplains, and integrating such features with structures and other improvements. F. Permitting flexible residential lot development in exchange for the preservation of natural open space and active and passive recreational amenities on the site. G. Providing usable and suitably located recreation facilities and other public and common facilities. H. Coordinating architectural styles, building forms, and building relationships within the development and with surrounding land development, and I. Encouraging high-quality development within the city.

For more information, please contact the City’s Planning and Development Services Department.

City of Tucson Brownfields Program
The City of Tucson, Environmental Services manages a citywide Brownfields Program, which enables successful redevelopment of adversely impacted properties. The Brownfields Program encourages infill through the redevelopment of brownfield sites. Brownfields redevelopment spurs economic benefits, revitalizes surrounding areas, and reduces development pressure on undisturbed desert areas.

City of Tucson Native Plant Preservation Ordinance (NPPO)

A Native Plant Preservation Plan is required in order to develop most property in Tucson. The NPPO plan shows how the native plants on a project site will be preserved, relocated or replaced. Specific trees, shrubs, succulents and cacti are protected by law. These protected species are listed in the City of Tucson Land Use Code. Information regarding the NPPO submittal requirements and review process can be found in section 3.8 of the Land Use Code and section 2-15 of the Development Standards.

City of Tucson Habitat Conservation Plans (HCP)
To protect our City’s natural heritage, balance community and economic growth with the natural environment, and to comply with the Endangered Species Act, the City of Tucson is working with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to create two Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs).

RTA Wildlife Linkages

As part of the RTA funding measure adopted by Pima County voters in 2006, $45 million was allocated to fund activities and projects to improve wildlife connectivity associated with transportation projects. These funds may be applied to projects that are specified by the RTA plan or to any other transportation related project, e.g., existing road retrofits.

Pima County Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan

The Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, mindful of the factual correlation between growth and the consumption of natural resources, gives high priority to preserving and protecting our most important natural resources. Growth should be directed to areas with the least natural, historic, and cultural resource values.

ADOT Wildlife Linkages Workgroup

The Arizona Wildlife Linkages Workgroup is a collaborative effort between nine public agencies and nonprofit organizations. Recognizing that habitat connectivity is a landscape issue involving multiple land jurisdictions, this workgroup has engaged in unprecedented cooperation and facilitated discussions and partnerships to help ensure a unified approach to wildlife linkage conservation and management.

Arizona Growing Smarter
In 2004, Governor Janet Napolitano requested the Growing Smarter Oversight Council initiate a statewide conversation toward a vision for Arizona, and to develop a set of Guiding Principles to help Arizona not just grow, but reach for the next level in developing quality growth.

Arizona Game and Fish Department Wildlife Action Plan

Arizona's wildlife action plan provides a strategic framework and an information resource to help conserve Arizona's terrestrial and aquatic wildlife and the lands and waters on which they depend for survival. 

Buffelgrass Information Center

Remove buffelgrass before a site is developed. In the past two years, the invasion of buffelgrass has reached a critical stage. Extensive outreach has resulted in media coverage and nearly unanimous consensus that the time for action is now. Even with this heightened awareness, control activities have yet to keep pace with buffelgrass spread. Because this spread is exponential—populations of this grass and the costs of controlling it may be doubling every year—time is of the essence. Collaborative and decisive action is needed now.

Building Construction

Buildings should be designed with nature in mind. Integrating the built environment with our beautiful desert landscape creates a greater sense of place and respects the integrity of the landscape. Choose designs and colors that complement the desert landscape. Use native vegetation that attracts desert wildlife, such as lizards and birds. Instead of contributing to the urban heat island effect, buildings can be designed to help mitigate this effect with strategic use of vegetation.

Codes and Programs

City of Tucson Urban Landscape Framework

A healthy urban landscape is vital to our quality of life. Our stewardship to both the built urban landscape environment and the natural desert ecosystem is even more important now as population continues to increase in the Tucson area. To increase awareness and understanding about urban ecology, the City of Tucson developed an Urban Landscape Framework (ULF). It’s an important step to integrate social-cultural elements into decision-making processes that foster a healthier urban landscape.

Arizona Department of Transportation Encroachment Permits

The Arizona Department of Transportation allows placement of landscaping in the right of way provided the landscaping does not include anything that would be a hazard to the motorist. 

Water Harvesting Ordinance

The City of Tucson Land Use Code addresses water harvesting requirements in sections,, and The focus of these ordinance sections is on harvesting rainwater to supplement on-site irrigation of vegetation. 

On October 14, 2008, the City of Tucson Mayor and Council adopted the Commercial Rainwater Harvesting Ordinance No. 10597, the first of its kind in the country. This Ordinance takes effect June 1, 2010, and applies to new commercial construction. Facilities subject to the ordinance must meet 50% of their landscape demand using harvested rainwater, prepare a site water harvesting plan and water budget, meter outdoor water use and use irrigation controls that respond to soil moisture conditions at the site. Facilities have 3 years to establish plants before the 50% requirement must be met, and the requirement is waived during periods of drought. To learn more, click here

On October 18, 2005, the Mayor and Council passed an Ordinance (number 10210) adopting the Water Harvesting Guidance Manual for use by developers in planning a strategy to implement water harvesting for new developments, including City projects. The manual is primarily directed toward commercial developments, subdivision common areas, public buildings and public rights-of-way, but the concept designs and configurations are easily adapted for residential lot use. The Water Harvesting Guidance Manual provides information on water harvesting techniques, their appropriate placement, and the context of water harvesting in site design. It also addresses engineering considerations and landscape considerations, among other relevant topics.

Xeriscape Landscaping and Screening Ordinance

The Xeriscape Landscaping Ordinance became effective in February 1991. This comprehensive landscape code applies to new multifamily, commercial, and industrial development. One of the goals of this ordinance is to conserve water by using established xeriscape principals in landscape design. The regulations require the use of drought-tolerant plants from a published list and limits non-drought tolerant vegetation to small "oasis" areas.

Drought Tolerant Landscaping Resources:

• Arizona Department of Water Resources plant list

References for Identifying and Selecting Landscape Plants for the Low Desert (UofA)

• Xeriscape: Landscaping with style in the Arizona desert - Resources

• SmartScape Workshops. SmartScape is a series of nine two-hour workshops designed to encourage consistent horticultural practices compatible with the Sonoran Desert. The classes are designed for Green Industry personnel including property managers, landscape maintenance and installation personnel, nursery personnel, landscape architects and designers, and other allied professionals who are responsible for urban landscapes.

Arizona Department of Transportation Encroachment Permits

The Arizona Department of Transportation allows placement of landscaping in the right of way provided the landscaping does not include anything that would be a hazard to the motorist.

EPA GreenScapes Program

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) GreenScapes program provides cost-efficient and environmentally friendly solutions for landscaping. Designed to help preserve natural resources and prevent waste and pollution, GreenScapes encourages companies, government agencies, other entities, and homeowners to make more holistic decisions regarding waste generation and disposal and the associated impacts on land, water, air, and energy use.


EPA Urban Heat Island Effect Information

For millions of Americans living in and around cities, heat islands are of growing concern. This phenomenon describes urban and suburban temperatures that are 2 to 10°F (1 to 6°C) hotter than nearby rural areas. Fortunately, there are common-sense measures that communities can take to reduce the negative effects of heat islands.

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities

In 1999, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a small network consisting of public and private organizations, was founded as a direct result of a research project on the benefits of green roofs and barriers to industry development. 

Purchasing and Operations

If your business is in the restaurant or other food related industry, consider purchasing locally grown food. In Tucson, a wide variety of produce is available within a 250-mile radius. Purchasing locally grown food is healthier, reduces transportation costs (and greenhouse gas emissions), and supports the local economy. Below are resources for purchasing locally grown food.


Click here for a list of Farmers’ Markets in the Tucson area.

Tucson Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
One of the greatest pleasures of eating local organic produce comes from knowing that it is grown by farmers who have made conscious choices about cultivating their land in environmentally and socially responsible ways. Participating in such a mode of food production and consumption also fosters closer relationships among us, the foods we eat and those who grow it. Welcome to the Tucson CSA. The goal of Tucson CSA is to provide a direct connection between local producers and consumers.

Baja Arizona Sustainable Agriculture

Baja Arizona Sustainable Agriculture, (BASA), is a 501c3 non-profit organization working to increase local sustainable food production and marketing in southern Arizona. Sustainable agriculture is good for the earth, good for people and good for communities.

Arizona Department of Agriculture

AZ Dept. of Agriculture’s mission is to regulate and support Arizona agriculture in a manner that encourages farming, ranching, and agribusiness while protecting consumers and natural resources.


Encouraging a sense of stewardship and actively educating your workforce about the importance of intact natural landscapes and systems will help your business establish common goals and develop community leaders. Use your business site as an educational tool by incorporating green space into the workplace. If employees are able to enjoy a natural setting while they eat lunch, they may develop a connection to that natural space. Here are a couple more reasons to incorporate green space into the workplace:

Views of plants increase job satisfaction. Employees with an outside view of plants experience less job pressure and greater job satisfaction than workers viewing man-made objects or having no outside view. They also report fewer headaches and other ailments than workers without the view. 

Nature increases worker productivity. Psychologists have found that access to plants and green spaces provides a sense of rest and allows workers to be more productive. 

(Virginia Cooperative Extension: The Value of Landscaping http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-721/426-721.html)

Visit Project Evergreen for more information about the economic benefits of green spaces.