Saturday, February 4, 2017

Tucson's Civano community: where I'd love to live

I reused portions of the text below from previous posts since the facts about Civano haven't changed. However, the photos are all new, taken on December 30, 2016.

Civano is a master-planned community on the east side of Tucson, AZ 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.

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.)

A large Agave weberi (left) makes a beautiful house in Civano even more beautiful

I visited Civano for the first time in December 2014 and then again December 2015. Even now, after my third visit, Civano has a strange hold on me that I can't shake.

The first thing you notice in Civano is that it has a look all its own. The houses, often colorful, fit into their surroundings. Each one seems unique, in contrast to the cookie-cutter architecture that defines so many subdivisions. There are no grotesquely wide streets, no faux-Mediterranean McMansions, no oversized expanses of 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'm a complete stranger in Civano, and yet everybody I met in the street acknowledged me, often with a smile. 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.

I did see one corner lot, located quite centrally, that was huge by Civano standards. The property had just sold (the SOLD sign was still there), and landscapers were working in the backyard. "This could have been our place," I thought wistfully. Of course it's easy to want to live in Tucson when you visit in the winter and daytime highs are in the 60s. It's an entirely different world in the summer when it's 105 during the day and 80 at night. I tend to forget that when I get wrapped up in my desert fantasy, but it's an important fact to remember.

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.

The owner of this house, still one of my favorites in Civano, emailed me after my 2014 post. I wonder if she and her family still live there?


I first noticed these dinosaurs in 2014. They're still there!

Glimpse of their patio. Isn't it a stunning combination of materials? The steel wall is fantastic.

The larger streets have medians planted with desert trees (often mesquites or palo verdes), shrubs and succulents.


The small backyards, often bordered by low stucco walls, face shared green spaces between each pair of residential streets. This creates a feeling of openness and fosters a sense of community. 


Typically, there are walkways through the green spaces, encouraging people to interact as they pass each other.


No two houses look alike, but they are all Southwestern in style. Many are brightly colored, others kept in muted earth tones. The overall look is both diverse and harmonious.




































Virtually every house has succulents in the front or backyard, even if it's just a solitary cactus, ocotillo or yucca. Others, like this house, have veritable succulent gardens--small, yes, because the properties are small, but full of variety.

While night-time lows were in the high 40s during my visit to Tucson, this homeowner was clearly prepared for frost
So, what do you think of Civano? Is it a place where you could picture yourself living?


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17 comments:

  1. Wow! these are real cool exterior designs. I love all the trees, pathways and the colors too. Would be interesting to see the interior designs. Do they have model homes or is this an established neighborhood?

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    1. Civano is an established community. It opened in 1999. (Here is a brief history.) I don't know if new houses are still being built, but they would be custom homes.

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  2. I had the same reaction as Laura -- WOW! I checked online with Zillow and saw a number of current offerings, both inside and out. Prices are a lot more reasonable than here in the Bay Area! I imagine that their homeowners association fees might be high, considering all those common spaces to maintain, association swim pools, etc. The homes are equipped with solar, so that's a savings. I certainly plan to check Civano out this spring when I visit NM and AZ. Thanks, Gerhard!

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    1. I know what you mean. Arizona real estate is shockingly affordable compared to California. Civano does have a HOA that is said to be very strict--but maybe that's what's needed to maintain the community at such a high standard. The HOA dues appear to be $78 a month (http://www.civano1.com/)--not bad at all.

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  3. I can understand the attraction of this community and I'm really impressed at the variations in home design but, having grown up in an inland Southern California valley, I don't think either my husband or I could stand summers there. The small garden size would also be an issue for me but perhaps there are opportunities to help out in the community garden areas that could offset that frustration. Before you consider a move, maybe a long-term rental experience spanning the summer would be in order?

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    1. I have no concrete plans to move anywhere at the moment, just dreaming. When the time comes, I will simply have to spend a summer in the desert to see how it really is. On the other hand, I also dream of living on the Central Coast, somewhere between Morro Bay and Santa Barbara. Or coastal San Diego County. Or Hawaii. LOL.

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  4. I could never live in southern Az ( I have lived in Northern Az) because of the summer heat; I just can't tolerate it, even though I love the desert. This is the type of place that I would really enjoy spending a month or two in in winter,immersing myself in that fabulous neighborhood assuming I had the financial resources! I visited your past posts and Pams too; this is on my punch list to see when I get to AZ again.

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    1. Kathy, Tucson is a tad cooler than Phoenix but it's undeniable hot in the summer. In 2012 we spent a couple of weeks in the Southwest in the middle of the summer, and it wasn't as bad as I had expected. I think I'd get used to it... maybe.

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  5. Once again I ate up every detail in this post. What a magical place to live! I think I could be happy there, even with the heat, as long as I had a good air conditioner.

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    1. Oh, I'm certain everybody has excellent A/C. You couldn't survive without it.

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  6. What a great photo tour! I love Tuscon and the surrounding areas. I miss the southwest and could totally see living here!

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    1. Maybe a bunch of us can start an intentional community in the desert!

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  7. It's really, really beautiful, although I think your photographic skill might have a little to do with that.

    But having lived in a neighborhood of small lots with neighbors a few feet away--you hear EVERYTHING, most of which you absolutely don't want to hear, even when you are indoors with all the doors and double-glazed windows shut. I don't think larger lots are unconducive to a warm and friendly neighborhood.

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    1. I agree completely with what you said about lot size. For me, the small lots in Civano are its biggest drawback by far. Maybe in 20 years a small lot is exactly what I want, but not now...

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  8. I can clearly see why, the plants, architectural style, lovely!!

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