Character Areas

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The City of Tempe wants to celebrate the many things that make each area of Tempe unique and special. Using local landmarks such as canals, freeways, light rail and city borders, we’ve created eight distinct character areas throughout Tempe. We want to discover what you value most about your area, what you’d like to see improved and what would make your life more livable. We’re looking at Light Rail Station Areas, streetscapes, bike paths, commercial corners, housing options, public transit, parks, historic and cultural resources, and much more.      

The planning process for each area takes at least one year, and produces a plan that is approved by the Development Review Commission and Tempe City Council. Throughout 2015, planning efforts focused on Apache (Character Area 4) and Alameda (CA5). The Kiwanis / The Lakes (CA7) and Corona / South Tempe (CA8) were completed in 2014. In partnership with the Downtown Tempe Authority (DTA) and Arizona State University, work on the Downtown Tempe / Rio Salado / ASU / NW Neighborhoods (CA3) was completed in June 2018.


A Character Area Plan is a way of conveying the vision and goals of an area to create positive change. Each area plan is firmly rooted in placemaking principles and design guidelines.                

Our economic development division can refer to the plan to see what kinds of businesses would be most appreciated in an area. 
Our planners can refer to this when working with businesses and developers to help guide landscape treatments and housing options, or when creating new bike paths, planning public art or designing streetscapes. During the budget process, city staff can look to these plans to see where residents most want city amenities. Our boards and commissions may also consult Character Area Plans before making decisions and making recommendations.

The plan does not come with any funding, and cannot supersede the General PlanZoning & Development Code or existing state and city laws. We care about what you want, but we cannot violate the law or take away someone’s private property rights. For additional information, see handout "What is the difference between a guideline and a legal requirement? [.pdf]         


Character Areas video

 For a list of related activities, events, public meetings, summaries of public feedback, as well as supplemental material, please visit the individual pages for each Character Area: 

 CA3 Badge [black-and-white thumbnail]

Apache Character Area Plan [cover]

Alameda - badge

CA7 - Kiwanis The Lakes [12-page Plan]


CA8 - Corona South Tempe [12-page Booklet]



Once every ten years Arizona cities are required to update their General Plan which contains the city’s vision of the future. Tempe’s General Plan 2040 provides the view of what Tempe will look like, and how it will function as a community. Land-locked Tempe is expected to grow by more than 55,000 new residents and to add nearly 75,000 new jobs by 2040. Although this growth can be accommodated within Tempe, more important than numeric change is Tempe’s ability to maintain a high quality of life for residents.

Guiding principles set the tone for GP2040: balanced land use; enhanced quality of life and preservation of neighborhood character; increased economic vitality; sustained mobility / greater accessibility; as well as sustainability and environmental stewardship. Strategic growth of homes and jobs will elevate Tempe as the regional leader of urban living, and be the kind of place you spend a lifetime because this is where you want to be.

Tempe’s vision for itself in the year 2040 is one of livability: a city with a diverse, active, and engaged community; a city that is visually attractive and accessible by multiple modes of transportation, with parks and cultural facilities providing the quality of life attributes that retain and attract residents and businesses; a city comprised of and defined by vibrant mixed-use hubs that not only provide for daily needs, but function as social gathering places for its residents and visitors; a city with homes of distinctive quality and varied density, revitalized neighborhoods that are walkable, bikeable, pleasant and safe, and connected within a 20-minute walk, bike, or transit ride.

As a continuation of the General Plan, Character Area Planning is specifically called upon in GP2040 as one of the central means to accomplish the vision and goals of Tempe voters. Central themes woven throughout the plan include developing Tempe as a leader in urban living; expanding pockets of urban activity centers or “hubs”; and enhancing connections for pedestrian, bike, and transit to produce a “20-minute City”.

City staff or elected officials don’t have all the answers. The people who live, work, learn, and play in each area are the daily experts of the community. Throughout the public process, we will be looking to the community to help define issues related to:

  • Placemaking / Sense of Place

    Opportunity for residents, workers, students, and businesses to define, enhance, preserve, and celebrate their best

  • Design Guidelines

    Quality of design, walkability, bikeability, sustainability, connectivity, types of neighborhood goods-and-services desired,
    aging-in-place options, livability

  • Quality of Projects + Spaces

    How a space feels, safety perceptions, shade, desirability, comfort, space programming, places to bring the kids or be a kid

  • Road Map / Vision for Future Projects   
    Formal review and approval processes for Tempe City Council, Development Review Commission, Historic Preservation Commission, Neighborhood Grants Program, Neighborhood Advisory Commission, Municipal Arts Commission, Transportation Commission, etc. 

The scope of work for a Character Area Plan often includes elements not specifically addressed in GP2040 or Tempe’s Zoning & Development Code, including answers to the following questions:     

  • What sets this area apart and makes it unique from other parts of Tempe or the Valley?
  • Does this area include the types of places, businesses, and infrastructure people look for when deciding where to live or invest?
  • What should be preserved, enhanced, changed, added, or connected in a meaningful way?
  • Is this an area where one can be young and old; can one age-in-place here?
  • How can we provide a vision which enhances human health, options, prosperity, and our environment?
  • What design criteria can we put in place to improve the quality of projects and ultimately our community?
  • How will this plan carry out the vision of a “20-minute City” approved by voters in GP2040.

There are a number of factors which fall outside of the scope of work for a Character Area Plan, many which already have legal systems in place to regulate, protect, and/or control their purview. As design guidelines established to guide future development and decision-making, a Character Area plan cannot supersede any existing legal processes. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Changes to a parcel’s legal Land Use [General Plan 2040 ratified by voters in May 2014]
  • Changes to a parcel’s legal Zoning [Zoning & Development Code covers Development Standards, Zoning Overlays, etc.]
  • Private Property Rights [AZ Proposition 207 “Private Property Rights Protection Act” ratified by voters in November 2006]
  • Rental vs. Owner options for parcels zoned Multi-Family / Mixed-Use [no legal control process exists]
  • Prohibiting specific brand-name businesses / retailers [against the law]
  • Residential / Commercial Code Compliance [311–One Call To City Hall; online complaint form available


For additional information, please contact or 480-350-8073.

Si a usted le gustaría a la información en español, por favor comuniquese con la ciudad de Tempe a 480-350-4311.