On New Year’s day, when all the nurseries and most public gardens in Tucson were closed, I finally had time to take a walk through the Civano community located on the southeastern edge of the city.
I first became aware of Civano through landscape designer Scott Calhoun’s appropriately titled book Yard Full of Sun: The Story of a Gardener's Obsession That Got a Little Out of Hand. Published in 2005, it “chronicles the struggles and triumphs of one family as they design and construct a home and garden in the desert.” That home, as you might guess, is located in the community of Civano, which was then under construction.
Beautifully written and illustrated, Yard Full of Sun captured me the first time I read it, and I’ve wanted to see Civano for myself ever since. (Here is an excerpt of the book, which is still available from the usual sources.)
What’s so special about Civano, you might ask.
Civano is a master-planned community focused on innovative design, sustainable construction, conscious use of resources, and the creation of a sense of place that connects people with each other and their surroundings—all basic tenets of New Urbanism. Neighborhood businesses and community facilities are within easy walking distance, minimizing the constant use of cars. Most residential lots are small, and houses are bordered by shared green areas that encourage socializing with neighbors. In many ways, Civano is what neighborhoods used to be before people fled to the suburbs and retreated into anonymity.
One thing struck me, a casual visitor, right away: Civano looks different. The houses, often colorful, fit into their surroundings. Each one seems unique, in contrast to the cookie-cutter architecture that plagues most modern subdivisions. There are no grotesquely wide streets, no faux-Mediterranean McMansions, no oversized expanses of useless lawn. Homeowners plant the kinds of plants that do well in Tucson’s desert climate. Signs advertise the use of reclaimed water for irrigation purposes. Rainwater is harvested and stored in corrugated-metal cisterns.
I was a complete stranger in Civano, and yet everybody I met in the street acknowledged me, often with a smile. Even though it was a nippy afternoon (it had snowed the night before), people were out and about, walking their dogs, pushing kids in wagons or strollers, exercising. Things felt right. This, I thought, is a place where I could live. The only downside is the small lots, even smaller than what we have here in Davis. This wouldn’t give me much room for gardening. But apparently there are lots further out which are larger. The next time I’m in Tucson I’ll do more reconnoitering.
I took a lot of photos in the two hours I was in Civano because I was so inspired by the architecture, the plantings, and the general layout of the neighborhood. I hope my pictures will give you an idea of why I think this community is so special.
Civano Nursery. I would have loved to explore it, but it was closed on New Year’s day. Check out Pam Penick’s post instead.
Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) and slipper plant (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) at the entrance to Civano
Ocotillo fence at Civano Nursery
Yuccas and barrel cactus in public planting
Goal for 2015: build a little free library like this one!
Shared green area between two rows of houses
Somebody has a good sense of humor
I love this steel ramada and the bottle collection
I wish I had room for a cistern like that!
I think it looks pretty cool, too!
I’d live here in a heartbeat!
Like many houses in Civano, this one has thick walls that protect against temperature extremes
“Sparse” is the keyword here. I guess you could do worse than with Queen Victoria agaves (Agave victoria-reginae).
Octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) and desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)
Reclaimed water sign—and bright purple water meter covers. Gotta love it!
Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) and fishhook barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizeni)
Cow’s tongue prickly pear (Opuntia engelmanii var. linguiformis)
Caribbean agave (Agave vivipara)
Love this whale’s tongue agave…
… aka Agave ovatifolia
I’d have an ocotillo fence, too, if I lived here
This PDF from the web site of the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society has great information on planting and caring for bare-root ocotillos, in case you’re interested
Why aren’t bottle trees more popular in California? I think they’re cool.
- Wikipedia entry on New Urbanism
- Unsprawl Case Study on the Community of Civano, Arizona
- Best new community: Civano, near Tucson (brief blurb from Sunset Magazine)
- Living colorfully in Civano, Tucson’s green-home community (from Pam Penick’s blog, Digging)