Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A walk through Tucson’s Civano community

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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) and slipper plant (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) at the entrance to Civano

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Ocotillo fence at Civano Nursery

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Yuccas and barrel cactus in public planting

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Goal for 2015: build a little free library like this one!

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Hesperaloe funifera

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Shared green area between two rows of houses

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Somebody has a good sense of humor

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I love this steel ramada and the bottle collection

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I wish I had room for a cistern like that!

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I think it looks pretty cool, too!

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I’d live here in a heartbeat!

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Like many houses in Civano, this one has thick walls that protect against temperature extremes

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Another cistern

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“Sparse” is the keyword here. I guess you could do worse than with Queen Victoria agaves (Agave victoria-reginae).

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Octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) and desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri)

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Reclaimed water sign—and bright purple water meter covers. Gotta love it!

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Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) and fishhook barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizeni)

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Cow’s tongue prickly pear (Opuntia engelmanii var. linguiformis)

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Caribbean agave (Agave vivipara)

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Love this whale’s tongue agave…

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… aka Agave ovatifolia

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Covered citrus

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I’d have an ocotillo fence, too, if I lived here

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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

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Why aren’t bottle trees more popular in California? I think they’re cool.

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FURTHER READING:

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2014 Desert Trip index

18 comments:

  1. I have great memories of wandering older Tucson neighborhoods with my brother when we visited there YEARS ago. While this is a planned community it doesn't look so different to me than those neighborhoods did, which I suppose I mean as a compliment to both. There is definitely a high degree of creativity here. Perhaps one day we'll be neighbors in Tucson!

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    1. That's a compliment indeed! I think that's exactly what the creators of Civano set out to do.

      As for being neighbors in Tucson one day, I'll say two things: a) Nothing is impossible, and b) I'd love it!

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  2. Wow, everything just complements each other, certainly a beautiful looking community!

    Could this be the new home of the Bock's in the future? :)

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    1. While we're not going anywhere for the time being, it never hurts to look ahead :-).

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  3. So cheerful and spiky! Love the colors and styles....yes very creative and a great tour. As Mark and Gaz ask....will this perhaps be your new home someday? :)

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    1. There's so much to love about Civano. And I've been saying for years that I'll end in Tucson someday. Out of the five places I've wanted to live as an adult - Davis (where I live now), Monterey (where I went to college), Santa Barbara (too expensive), Portland (too cold) and Tucson - Tucson is an awfully attractive option for retirement.

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  4. I can see why you would want to live there. Would be interesting to just stay at that b& b and get a better feel of the area. Looks like you found your future home.

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    1. Yes, definitely! Next time I'm in Tucson--hopefully before too long--I'll use Civano as my homebase.

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  5. I'm envious, because I live in N.Y. , and could never have landscaping as beautiful as pictured.

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    1. The light and the air in the desert is so special. And of course all the plants! I'll never get tired of it.

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  6. After swooning over the photos, I headed to 1) Zillow, to daydream about properties in Tucson, and 2) Google Maps. Only a six-and-a-half hour drive... [runs off to calculate time to retirement]. Great post!

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    1. Luisa, 6 1/2 hrs is not too bad--at least not compared to my 13 hr drive. Houses in Tucson sure are much more affordable than in California.

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  7. New Urbanism applied to a desert climate! I can see why Civano appeals to you.

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  8. So my mouth was hanging open looking at the photos. I loved every one. It does look like a neighborhood I would love to live in also. The colors, cactus and everything. And the Palo Verde's! Beautiful!

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  9. What a photogenic neighborhood! Thank you for all the eye-candy. I've been dreaming of a little retirement home in Portland--and another in Tucson--too hot in Tucson, go to Portland; too cold & grey in Portland, go to Tucson. Great dream, anyway!

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    1. I'm with you. Going back and forth between Portland and Tucson wouldn't be a bad way to spend retirement at all!

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