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As a part of the University of Arizona's efforts to address natural resource sustainability issues associated with development and its impacts on the Sonoran desert ecosystem, The School of Renewable Natural Resources, working in partnership with the Rincon Institute, established The Center On Impacts of Urban Development In Southern Arizona's Desert Environment (CIUDAD) in August of 2000. The mission of CIUDAD is to assist public and private decision-makers in determining an acceptable balance between the protection of the Sonoran desert ecosystem and its appropriate use for societal benefits. CIUDAD has three essential objectives:
  • To educate stakeholders about their connection to the desert environment and potential consequences to their activities.
  • To inform public policy decision-making to ensure the conservation of the desert's natural resources, while allowing for responsible economic growth and development.
  • To generate practical technologies, tools, and practices to help prevent or mitigate potential problems.


In 1900 only 13 cities worldwide had populations of one million people or more. Eighty years later there were 230 cities with populations exceeding one million. In this new millennium it is projected there will be over 400 cities with a million or more population and 26 mega-cities with populations over 10 million people. The United State’s urban population was 35% in 1900; today 80% of Americans live in cities and towns. Recent statistics also show even small communities in the Intermountain West are growing at rapid rates due to the computer revolution and new options available for people to work from home.

Arizona is the second fastest growing state in the nation, owing to migration of people to the state in search of scenic open spaces, employment opportunities, and an overall better quality of life. From 1980 to 1990, Pima County, which includes Metropolitan Tucson, grew in population by 25%, well above the 10% national average. This explosive trend will likely continue; Tucson' s population is projected to grow substantially over the next 20 years. If present low-density residential development trends persist, Tucson and other cities in the desert southwest will also be twice their current geographic size by 2020.

As Tucson expands, the potential exists for a growing percentage of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem to become endangered or lost. The expansion of Tucson will also have important implications for the use and management of public holdings, including the Coronado National Forest, Saguaro National Park, and state trust lands in close proximity to the city. Rapid population growth and urbanization in the Tucson area are already fragmenting open spaces and wildlife habitat, threatening and endangering desert wildlife (e.g. pygmy owl, desert tortoise, jaguar, and mountain lion), introducing exotic invasive weeds, depleting precious water resources, degrading air and water quality, and destroying the natural character of the Sonoran desert landscape that originally attracted people to the city. Heightened resource use, increased human mobility, increased fire hazards, conflicting recreational uses, and seasonal and permanent home development will greatly exacerbate this situation and will have to be addressed to protect the health and sustainability of these valuable natural resources.

In addition to the impact of human activities on natural resource systems, natural systems also affect humans. Yet people are increasingly disconnected from a fundamental understanding of their relationship with the natural environment. The involvement of people in the protection and stewardship of the natural environment of Tucson will not only have a direct influence on the quality of life in the city, it will also influence the perceptions and behaviors of Tucsonans concerning the planning, management, and use of natural resources immediately adjacent to the city.

Workable policies and practices, whether advocated for or adopted by local governments, businesses, individuals, or environmental or civic organizations, need to be grounded in sound science-based knowledge and information. Too often, in the past, special interest groups have come into conflict over the best use of the physical space in and around urban centers. Solutions have grown out of situations where people set aside their differences and worked to build compromise. CIUDAD was created to facilitate research, cooperative administration and policy-making, and outreach to address these issues.


CIUDAD is a unique partnership of public and private institutions and organizations dedicated to advancing a critical understanding of how urbanization impacts desert environments, how these impacts can be minimized, and how ecologically degraded areas can be restored. Through research, monitoring, public outreach and educational programming, the Center seeks to assist public decision-makers, researchers, planners, developers, resource managers, landowners, and the general public in developing innovative strategies for integrating conservation and environmental quality into urbanizing landscapes.


  • Support the conservation of natural resources in desert environments
  • Encourage voluntary environmentally-senstive urban development
  • Enhance your knowledge on how urban development affects our natural resources
  • Improve communication and collaboration among researchers, resource managers, business leaders, landowners, policy makers and the public
  • Improve design and construction guidelines for developers and planners that minimize ecological and environmental impacts of urbanization
  • Encourage community involvement in conservation efforts and research activities
  • Document the importance of the link between the health of a community and the sustainability of a quality natural environment


  • Develop and sustain a vibrant partnership of institutions, organizations, and agencies that will facilitate focused scholarship and educational outreach on urbanization of desert environments
  • Ensure that knowledge generated through research is reliable, timely and relevnt to understanding impacts of development on natural landscapes in desert environments
  • Ensure that new knowledge is readily disseminated to decision-makers, landowners, resource managers, developers, other stakeholder groups and the general public
  • Continue long-term ecological monitoring of the biological and physical attributes of riparian ecosystems and other landscapes subject to urbanization
  • Develop and implement landowner-based strategies for conserving and restoring ecosystems, including outreach/educational materials on restoration approaches
  • Involve teachers, students, landowners and the general public in ecological monitoring activities and conservation research
  • Develop and secure funding and other resources in support of the Center's activities
CIUDAD Home Page

School of Renewable Nat'l Resources

The Rincon Institute

The University of Arizona
The University of Arizona

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