T Q & A

Bill Mackey

Bill Mackey

Troll through Amazon long enough and you'll find there's a book on just about every topic. Except street intersections. Local architect and UA djunct professor Bill Mackey, 44, has filled in that void with Guess That Intersection: Tucson, a tome that chronicles more than 60 of the city street grid's many blacktop confluences. And since none of the intersections are identified in the book, it gives the reader a chance to test their commuting memory skills. Mackey will be discussing the book, made possible through a grant from the Tucson Pima Arts Council, Saturday night at the Toole Avenue Art Walk.

Brian J. Pedersen, bpedersen@tucsonweekly.com

A book about intersections. That's certainly a unique topic. What's the genesis of this?

I put on an exhibit in April called Centers and Street Corners. Part of the exhibit had a "guess that intersection" section. And people had a lot of fun with that, they kind of got a kick out of that. They were like, I obviously know all of the intersections in town. I got a grant from Tucson Pima Arts Council, a New Projects grant, and decided to turn this idea into a book. The book has 65 intersections in it.

How did you do your research? Was there a method to the madness?

I drove randomly through town. I looked at a map before I went driving, decided I'd go south, then east, then north ... It was crazy. I got in my car at 7 (a.m.) and I stopped at 2 (p.m.) because there was a monsoon. It was (at) the end of July or beginning of August. It was a pretty cathartic experience running around town.

But why intersections? What's the significance of where two roads meet?

I'm an architect and I do a lot of work in urban design and urban theory. There's a lot of literature out there written about ... the importance of intersections. They're the place where innovations happen. Where people bump shoulders. The place of free speech. When you go around Tucson you wonder if there's any meaning behind any of those words.

Did you discover anything that surprised you?

Sure, there's a lot of different fast food restaurants. And there were a lot more pedestrians than I thought I'd see, a lot of bus riders. Grant and Alvernon is probably the heaviest pedestrian intersection I saw.

What do you hope to accomplish from this book?

Part of it is just to kind of have fun. We all understand that—people who are from Tucson or have been here for a little bit—understand that the built environment could improve. This really drives that home. Driving around Tucson, you just see a lot of the same. Not the same businesses, but the same kind of built environment. I think the book is supposed to jog people's memories about past and present intersections in people's lives, and hopefully jog something different for the future.

The book comes with a form for readers to make their own guesses, which you'll then grade if submitted to you. How important is feedback?

In the book there's a form that has 65 blank spaces, basically. They can fill out what they think each of the intersections is. The intersections are photographed, but the street signs are blacked out, kind of like in a video where they blur out the faces of people. They can scan (the form) in and email it to me and I'll grade it. I'm hoping people will have fun and people think about their built environment.

Does someone get a prize for getting the most intersections right?

Nope. In fact, in the book it says if you want a prize you can go to McDonald's and get a Happy Meal.

What do you do when not chronicling the idiosyncrasies of Tucson's many intersections?

I have my real work, as an architect I do projects with mostly cafes. I also teach at the university. I teach in the School of Agriculture, mostly a design studio. And I teach a course in the Honors College about putting on exhibits. Since 2009 I've put on about seven different exhibits about downtown. I also have a proposal out for Guess That Intersection: Arizona.

Thoughts on those new "Michigan left turns" popping up around here?

I have no idea, I'l have to try one out. But my kneejerk reaction is, it follows the mentality of we need to get from point A to point B in the quickest and most efficient manner possible. This is where we are, we need to chill out and not move so quickly. That's my kneejerk reaction. But beyond that, I'm sure they're meant to be effective.

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