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Community of Civano - Tucson, Arizona

Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as PlacesAnnouncing Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places, by Simmons B. Buntin with Ken Pirie
Planetizen Press
  
The Civano case study on this page is out of date. A completely revised case study is included in the new book, which is available in full-color print and electronic versions, with an introduction by Galina Tachieva, author of Spawl Repair Manual.
  
Learn more and order you copy!

  
By Simmons B. Buntin

 

The Community of Civano, located in the southeast part of Tucson, is, according to its planners, "an antidote to urban sprawl's five banes:  loss of community, loss of open space, traffic congestion, air pollution, and poor use of resources."  It is a community "with choices about how you want to live."

Civano's planning integrates residential communities with shopping, workplace, school, and civic facilities essential to the daily life of the residents, as well as parks and natural open spaces vital for relaxation, enjoyment, and preservation of the area's natural landscape and heritage.  Passive and active solar principles, sustainable building materials, and water conservation technologies are key elements across Civano.  Every neighborhood will have gathering places such as coffee shops and small commercial enterprises.  Most of these are within walking distance of each other, conserving resources and minimizing waste.

Civano's welcome center
Civano's Welcome Center.

Community History

In 1981, Arizona's then Governor Bruce Babbit participated in a showcase of  locally-built solar-powered homes.  His comment to the builders, "This is great, what are you going to do next?" sparked a discussion that resulted in a vision for a new community that significantly reduces resource consumption and adverse environmental impacts compared with standard subdivisions.  A decade later, the Arizona Solar Village Corporation was formed to sculpt that vision into what was originally called the Tucson Solar Village, known today as the community of Civano.  "Civano" was the golden era of the Classical Phase of native Hohokam civilization, an era that balanced natural resources with human needs.

The State Land Department committed 818 acres of undeveloped desert on the southeast side of Tucson to the project.  In 1991, the City of Tucson approved rezoning of the land to be developed into the master-planned community.  The rezoning stipulated aggressive resource conservation goals and performance requirements for the purchaser and developer.  The Tucson City Council adopted an Integrated Method of Performance and Cost Tracking (IMPACT) System for Sustainable Development in early October 1995, clarifying the performance requirements.

Site map of Civano's first neighborhood
Site plan of most of Civano's first neighborhood, including Global Solar (bottom left), neighborhood center (center), and residential lots.  Houghton Blvd. runs north-south, left side of plan.

After several planning and marketing studies, the city sought out a master developer who would be interested in, and capable of, such an ambitious project.  A joint venture called The Community of Civano presented the only bid of $2.7 million to purchase the land at an auction in July 1996.  The city also agreed to support Civano with $3 million in infrastructure funding for water, sewer, and roads.  The city's seed money was leveraged by a commitment of an additional $20 million by private funders, through the developer, for energy designs.

Since 1996, the developer (originally David Case and Kevin Kelly) has worked with 27 consultants and universities to design a livable community for the 21 st Century.  Civano's town plan evolved through a series of energetic and intense design charettes that drew upon community members just as it drew upon esteemed New Urbanists Andres Duany, Stefanos Polyzoides, and William McDonough.  The actual cost to develop Civano, with its innovative energy and resource conservation technologies, is $20 million more than for a similarly sized, conventional master-planned community.

Kevin Kelly, former president of Civano Development Company, notes that "The issues are many and complex.  How do we create a sense of place where neighbors know one another?  How do we tread lighter on the land and use our natural resources wisely?  How do we begin to mitigate the land use patterns and zoning practices that brought us urban sprawl."

His answer is Civano, "the first large-scale development in America which begins to address these challenges."


Private space at Civano respects the neighborhood, socially as well as physically.

"The ideas for Civano," he continues, "have been germinating in our city for more than fifteen years.  The planning process for this project has been extensive and encouraging.  Civano is a fundamentally new approach to community planning.  The goals are to connect people to each other, and to their environment, instead of simply maximizing short-term profits by increasing building lot counts.  All 'sustainable' planning principles require an analysis that incorporates the social, environmental, and economic impact of a development.

"The result is a community that is pedestrian-friendly, with tree-lined walkways and gathering places, such as cafés, parks, and public plazas.  Homes in Civano will use less potable water and offer the homebuyer active and passive solar choices.  The nursery has salvaged 50 desert trees and plants for every acre developed.  The builders will introduce consumers to environmentally healthier building products.  The project has the latest fiber optic telecommunications infrastructure and structured wiring in homes.  Most importantly, Civano's plan requires adherence to a strict energy and building code that will result in enough energy savings to prevent one billion pounds of carbon emissions from entering our atmosphere over the next two decades."

Kelly concludes that "Civano is a combination of sound planning, good science, and artful imagination."  And as one resident added, "The developer has stretched the canvas and now it's up to the residents and shopkeepers to apply the brush strokes."

Civano's Sustainable Land Use

The Community of Civano has adopted three tenets to help guide its land use, and indeed its overall physical, social, and economic development:

  • Create a sense of place that fosters community and connects people to one another and their natural environments.
  • Tread lighter on the land through innovative design.
  • Introduce sustainable construction materials and new technologies to advance the quality of life.

Civano's neighborhood center
Civano's Neighborhood Center is constructed of indigenous,
resource-efficient materials as well as the newest technology,
such as the solar photovoltaic panels on the porch roof.

Civano's land use is based on "a new vision of community balancing human needs and natural resources," according to marketing materials.  "Imagine charming tree-lined streets showcasing energy-efficient homes designed for optimum indoor-outdoor living in the unique Sonoran Desert environment.  Relax with friends at your neighborhood café.  Enjoy a concert or art show in the nearby park.  Stroll through the greenbelts that link the homes to the activity centers.  Get acquainted with your neighbors and recapture the traditional home town spirit once embodied in the heart and soul of America.  A brand-new kind of community is being built intermingling homes, workplace, recreation, and schools that will foster an 'old town' feeling while showcasing state of the art solar and fiber optic technologies."

Town planner Wayne Moody further notes that "the Civano principles balance economic, social, and environmental issues.  With 30 percent of the 1,145-acre site preserved as natural Sonoran desert, the master plan anticipates approximately 2,600 homes, plus one million square feet of commercial space."

The First Neighborhood

According to Stefanos Polyzoides, one of Civano's New Urbanist designers, "Civano represents for New Urbanism one of the first projects where community-building initiatives, which focus on anti-sprawl, are being carried out in tandem with an environmentally ambitious design program.  The overlap of social and environmental ideals that are the hallmark of Civano can be best isolated and understood in the design of its neighborhood center," he continues.

A home in Civano's first neighborhood
Homes in Civano's first neighborhood, such as this
Courtyard style home, take advantage of the desert
climate through use of Southwestern building styles.

"On the social side, the building occupies the focal point of the first neighborhood, within walking distance from all 600 households living there.  In its form, particularly the kiva-inspired cylinder and enclosed courtyard, it provides a place for the citizens of Civano to live in public.  The neighborhood center mix of uses and activities, such as corporate offices, a café, art gallery, other retail stores, and a meeting hall, invites diverse groups of people to occupy it throughout the day.  By using various building materials-adobe, RASTRA block, wood frame, and straw bale-it provides a clear menu of possibilities for building in a desert climate.  The passive and active solar elements, which take into account sun, wind, and shade, help maximize building efficiency and work with the natural environment.  The architectural style employed is based on traditional building types.  Openings and wall materials are designed relative to their exposure to the sun, thereby lessening dependence on mechanical heating and cooling."

The grand opening of Civano's first neighborhood was held April 16, 1999.  At the core of the neighborhood is the one-acre neighborhood center, including a bakery, Welcome and Education Center, conference center, and landscaped plaza with cool tower all constructed with a variety of alternative building materials that incorporate solar energy and water conservation systems, that Polyzoides describes.  The neighborhood also features a recreation center with tennis, swimming, ramada, and other facilities; as well as a community garden and learning center.

The neighborhood's first phase of residences features over 190 single-family homes in a wide range of lot sizes and product types, at prices ranging from $90,000 to $200,000.  Custom homes and those constructed with alternative building materials-including adobe, straw bale, Integra block, structural insulated panels, and RASTRA-are priced from about $150,000 to over $300,000.  Lots are also available to individual buyers and customer builders, so long as the structures meet Civano's stringent building codes.  The residence's architecture, and that of the commercial buildings among them, includes a wide range of styles and materials, drawing from the rich southern Arizona historical palette to produce neighborhoods with distinct character.

In addition to single-family homes, live-work units are planned near the neighborhood center, offering living quarters over office, shop, or gallery.  Separate guest houses will be allowed, which may also be used as permanent living quarters to encourage inter-generational households.

Global Solar Energy
Global Solar is the Environmental Business
Technology Center's first manufacturing facility.

Environmental Technology Business Center

Sustainable development is an emerging market that will generate new technology and jobs.  Civano's Environmental Technology Business Center aims at bringing the latest technologies and forward-thinking businesses together in an environmentally responsible, 65-acre business park adjacent to the retail and residential center of Civano.

The innovative business approach is designed to reduce business costs while maximizing resource efficiencies.  It will provide a healthier working environment, which results in higher worker comfort and productivity.

Located with a view corridor from Houghton Road-the major road adjoining the community-the ETBC welcomes commercial and industrial uses that meet one or more of the Center's three sustainable tenets:

  • Operates in a sustainably constructed building envelope.
  • Supports or promotes the principles of sustainability.
  • Has a benign production process that produces no harmful waste products.

The ETBC's first occupant is Global Solar Energy, a thin-film photovoltaics manufacturer that expects to save $46,000 a year in water and energy costs alone in its new building, compared to its former location outside of Civano.  Global Solar's 31,000-square-foot building-called the most environmentally friendly industrial building in Arizona-features skylights equipped with mirrors that rotate to follow the sun, providing daylight for a longer period than traditional skylights.  The building's walls are made of fly ash concrete and its carpeting is made of recycled materials.  The paint is non-toxic.  The facility utilizes nearly twenty improvements over basic model energy code standards.

Relocating palo verde trees
Civano Nursery's salvage program at work, preserving
a large palo verde that will be replanted as a street tree.

Preserving the Sonoran Desert Ecosystem On Which Civano is Built

Brad Lancaster of the Permaculture Drylands Institute states that builders either contribute to the degeneration of nature by paving over it, or the regeneration of nature by working within an ecological system.  "For instance," he says, "90 percent of Tucson's rainfall is either engineered to drain out of the county or lost through evaporation.  I want to develop methods to retain our water to nourish vegetation and replenish the aquifer.  If a design is not ecologically sound then it seems unlikely to be able to maintain itself in the long run.  However," he concludes, "if we mirror the patterns found in the natural environment, Civano can begin to design ecologically sound communities."

Civano begins first and foremost by setting aside 35 percent of the community for natural or enhanced open space.  Community orchards, linear parks, pedestrian trails, bike paths, environmentally-friendly recreational facilities, and preserved desert wildlands are all integral to the community's design.  It then allows only the most resource-efficient buildings and designs within its buildable boundaries.

Growing cactus at Civano Nursery
Relocated and new young cacti will be replanted throughout Civano.

Saving the Trees to Save the Landscape

In a community designed for sustainability, trees and plants are as important as the homes themselves.  For the past two years, arborist and horticulturist Les Shipley and his sons have invested time and savings into development of a unique tree salvage methodology at Civano.  Hundreds of palo verde and mesquite trees have been successfully relocated as part of Civano Nursery's salvage program.

Why preserve the trees?  "Similar looking nursery-grown hybrid trees and plants are readily found in local nurseries," says Shipley in response.  "However, we know that native wildlife is dependent upon native trees and vegetation to preserve the food chain.  It's the balancing of human needs with the natural environment.  That's why we can't disregard the value of preserving this precious resource, our Sonoran desert."

This program far exceeds Tucson's preservation policies and is salvaging and replanting approximately 65 percent of the major trees at Civano with a 97-percent success rate.  The program has so far saved over 2,400 plants and nearly 500 mature trees.

Shipley and his sons have established new landscape designs unique to every home being built at Civano.  Primarily using native, drought-tolerant plants, these designs demonstrate the principles of passive solar shading, permaculture, xeriscaping, and water harvesting techniques.

In order to promote education about desert landscaping, Civano Nursery and Garden Center is open to the public.  "An integral part of the garden center will be our teaching facility," says Shipley.  Classes open to the public feature horticulture experts teaching about desert planting.  Local organizations such as Trees for Tucson and the Tucson Botanical Gardens have accepted invitations to participate in the Center's ongoing workshop and demonstration programs.

Announcing the Health House
Civano was selected to host two ALA Health Houses.

Sustainable Building Techniques

Commercial and home builders at Civano are using a number of indigenous materials and energy- and water-saving techniques to ensure the community treads as lightly upon the Sonoran landscape as possible.  Civano's residences use 50 percent less energy than the 1995 Tucson model energy code, and 65 percent less potable water.  All homes feature two sets of water systems:  one potable and the other distributing reclaimed water for non-edible plant irrigation. 

Resource-efficient building techniques and materials commonplace at Civano include:

  • Straw bale, the residual product of wheat harvesting that is used for its insulating quality and beauty.
  • Passive solar siting, which takes into account sun, wind, and shade.
  • Water harvesting, in which water from the structure's roof is collected and stored in underground cisterns for xeriscaping and cooling.
  • Recycled materials, including building materials such as cemntitious foam block, and finishing products, such as tile and carpeting.
  • Active solar energy, such as solar photovoltaic panels and hot water systems located on roofs.
  • Cool tower, in which water travels over baffled filters, cooling moving air that then drops into the space below.
  • Thermal mass, the mass of the walls that helps moderate heat extremes by slowing heat penetration or loss.
  • Super-efficient windows, with frames resistant to heat transfer that are made of recycled wood waste and environmentally-friendly glue.

Civano has undertaken a strategic alliance with the American Lung Association's Health House Project to construct two Health House demonstration sites.  ALA's Health House Project is the first nationwide program to provide consumers with a standard building practice and verification of a home's performance relating to the minimization of indoor air pollution sources and energy consumption.  The homes' Health House criteria focus on moisture control, ventilation, and filtration.  The homes will be tested upon completion and their performance verified, and the design, construction, and verification processes will be made available to any consumer building in the Community of Civano. 

Strawbale construction
Straw bale construction was used on
part of the Neighborhood Center.

Creating Community

“With all its technological advancements, the most important element of Civano is its sense of community," says Civano partner David Case.  That sense of community is evident both in physical community design and amenities-such as the neighborhood center and its community center and meeting space-and in the way Civano's citizens and designers have come together-10 percent of Civano's profits return to Tucson as funds earmarked for sustainable development and reinvestment in Tucson's central city. 

For example, at the Second Annual Community Celebration in May 1998, many of the first neighborhood's streets were named in dedication to those worthy of recognition from across Tucson.  George Brookbank Place reminds residents of the urban horticulturist who, for more than 50 years, has brought the science of desert botany to the residents of Tucson by teaching desert gardening.  Joseph Parella Lane honors the police officer who dedicated his services to helping neighborhoods like Tucson's Yaqui neighborhood become drug-free and once again safe for all of its residents.  Cele Peterson Lane pays tribute to the motivated Tucson businesswoman who has advocated civic pride and improvement for nearly 60 years.

Those items that make a community a real community are beginning to happen as Civano evolves.  Its First Annual Civano Street Fair will be held in conjunction with merchant's associations and El Tour de Tucson in mid-November, featuring food, crafts, music, and family activities.  Other events fostered by the neighborhood center and the Civano Nursery and Garden Center promise to do the same.

A walkway in Civano's first neighborhood
Pathways and native landscaping help integrate the built and natural environments at Civano.

Building Civano by Building Partnerships

"Building a more sustainable and livable community is an ongoing process," notes Kevin Kelly.  Building partnerships to ensure Civano is successful is also an ongoing process.  Civano's primary development partners are The Community of Civano, LLC, and the City of Tucson.  Its primary financial partner is FannieMae, the nation's largest source of financing for home mortgages. 

FannieMae is using its American Communities Fund to support Civano.  "The Fund invests in leading edge, catalytic developments that expand opportunities for homeownership and the revitalization of communities across the nation," says FannieMae's American Communities Fund executive managing director Kenneth J. Bacon.  "Civano is truly a first of its kind," he continues, "a bellwether in real estate development.  FannieMae believes Civano is a worthy investment in America's new generation of housing, and fully supports its innovative efforts to balance community and residential needs."

Other Civano partners include Bank One, Andersen Windows, Carrier, GMAC Mortgage, town planning firms such as Duany Plater-Zyberk Company Architects & Town Planners, IBACOS, RASTRA, Tucson Electric Power, US West, Southwest Gas, and many others.

Ultimately, the partnerships and the real place they are building from the indigenous earth up demonstrate how unsprawled a place with a sense of place can truly be.

Neighborhood Center at dusk
Civano's Neighborhood Center welcomes residents and visitors with warm, natural materials and inviting artwork.

Civano Designed in Pragmatism

According to designer Andres Duany, "In designing Civano, we made dozens of decisions grounded in pragmatism.  We designed many streets to be meandering and narrow, not only as nostalgic recreations of the charming streets of the past, but also to slow down traffic to make the streets safer for children and pleasant for pedestrians.

"We designed buildings with flat roofs and stucco, influenced in part by Santa Fe architecture, but also because these elements are best suited for this climate.  We mixed big and small houses, not because they make a more picturesque composition, but because a society works better when people of different types live together.

"That an air of nostalgia exudes from these techniques is true, but it is incidental.  We must take the best of small towns and incorporate modern needs as well.  While small town retail fits the community, people often have greater needs.  More selection, more fashionable, and more sophisticated.  At Civano, the stores will be equal to those of a modern shopping center, yet with service provided by your neighbors.  Most important, these stores and restaurants will be available within walking distance along the quiet residential streets.  Opportunities to conduct business from home and community-based employment will be part of one's life."
  

For more information, visit the Civano Neighbors website at www.CivanoNeighbors.com.

  

Simmons B. Buntin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments. With Ken Pirie, he is the author of the new book Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places (Planetizen Press, 2013). His books of poetry are Riverfall (2005) and Bloom (2010), both published by Ireland's Salmon Poetry. Recent work has appeared in North American Review, ISLE, Versal, Orion, Hawk & Handsaw, High Desert Journal, and Kyoto Journal. Catch up with him at www.SimmonsBuntin.com.
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Just the Facts.
 
 

Community of Civano
in Tucson, Arizona

  • 1,145 acres at build-out
  • 35 percent dedicated open space
  • Comprised of 4 neighborhoods housing over 2,600 families at build-out
  • 110 acres of commercial, industrial, and retail uses, including the 65-acre Environ-mental Technologies Business Center
  • Community education and cultural facilities
  • Nursery, garden, and learning center
  • Sustainability goals include:
    -  Reducing potable water consumption by 65 percent
    - Reducing home energy consumption by 50 percent over 1995 model energy code
    - Reducing internal vehicle miles by 40 percent
    - Creating one job onsite for every two residences
    - Reducing landfill-destined solid waste
    - Providing 20 percent "affordable housing"
    - Developing a cooperative city developer sustainability work program
  • Developed by CDC Partners, LLC, City of Tucson, and Fannie Mae
      
 
     

  

SolarBuilt Homes

SolarBuilt is building a limited number of "environmentally intelligent," grid-tied, solar-powered homes in Civano's Desert Country and Neighborhood Center areas.

SolarBuilt,, founded by Gale Prososki-Marsland and Richard Marsland, builds on the partners' 25 years of solar design and building experience in Tucson to provide homes that balance human needs and natural resources.

Husband and wife team Gale and Richard not only "walk the talk," they've lived it.  They live in a home of their own design and construction that is not only a laboratory and test site for advanced principles of photovoltaics but is also a show stopper on regional tours of the best in solar design.  Their home in the Tucson Mountains has been featured in Solar Today and Fine Homebuilding magazines.

Gale, who serves on Tucson's Metropolitan Energy Commission, the Arizona Solar Advisory Council, and the Tucson Coalition for Photovoltaics, has pioneered many energy-saving features in Tucson area homes including passive solar design techniques and solar electricity.  Richard is a general contractor and a second-generation adobe mason.

Partner Paul Rollins moved from Connecticut to build and live his vision of community.  "Civano is a unique opportunity to live in the kind of hometown neighborhood that many of us were lucky enough to grow up in but which hasn't been duplicated in decades."

"Like some of the old neighborhoods, we see groups of three to six homes clustered around a courtyard complex at the Neighborhood Center-creating community within community.  This flexible type of design is ideal for a variety of lifestyles like live/work, conscious aging, assisting living, or extended families," he says.  The SolarBuilt partners also envision building community through a collaborative design process involving potential homebuyers in the early stages of community design and decision making.

Gales' designs for SolarBuilt homes apply principles of high thermal mass and passive solar energy collection to control interior temperature and reduce reliance on mechanical heating and cooling systems.  Her tried and proven design techniques for conservation and cooling can easily reduce the energy required to cool a home by 50 percent compared to an equivalent dwelling built with standard construction technologies.  In conjunction with non-toxic materials, the incorporation of both passive and active ventilation systems assures residents of healthy indoor air quality.

SoalrBuilt homes are primarily solar-powered, with photovoltaic systems backed up by the local electric power grid.  Water harvesting systems that contribute to conservation of the region's scarce water resources are also available on SolarBuilt homes..

More Information About SolarBuilt  >>

 

    
  
 
 

Resources.

Civano Neighbors Neighborhood Association

Civano: The Dark and the Light, an Editorial

Interview with Civano town planner Stefanos Polyzoides

City of Tucson

Pima County

Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan

Arizona-Sonora Desert Musuem

Saguaro National Park

All graphics and much text courtesy of CDC Partners, LLC, and respective Civano partners.

 
    
  
 
   

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