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|
- 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)