A Series on Building the Sustainable Home in Tucson, Arizona


The weather has been unusually cool this last week. Maybe in other parts of the country that’s something to complain about, but here, it’s a boon. It’s found me on my bike almost every day, heading to work, to yoga, to meet a friend for a beer, to a doctor’s appointment. It’s reminded me how much I value being able to do that. It clears my head in a way nothing else does, because I don’t do anything else at the same time. No NPR or music, like in the car, no podcasts like I have when I’m running, nothing to read, nothing happening except pedaling and thinking. And yet, I get from place to place.

Much of Tucson, including the part where I live, has really great bicycle infrastructure – dedicated bike lanes, push-buttons to request a green light that are at the right height, green zones in big intersections where cars have to wait behind a line, allowing cyclists to pull up where they can be seen, divided turn lanes for cars turning right so they don’t hit bikers going straight – combine that with the largely flat topography in town and the absence of snow and ice, and it’s a biking paradise.


One of the local rating systems I explored gives you points for being in proximity to various services and businesses, the idea being that the community would be walkable and bikeable. (Though they put their requirements in measurable distances, rather than my preferred hierarchy of driving distance, biking distance, walking distance, and stumbling distance.)

One of the things to check off was a grocery store. There is a grocery store – a discount chain with a focus on Mexican ingredients – about a mile away. It’s a perfectly good store—I’ve shopped there before, usually as part of a Mexican cooking experiment—but it probably isn’t somewhere I’d do routine shopping. The big store where I often shop now to stock up is a mile and a half away—walking distance if I’m not exhausted or in a hurry, and biking distance certainly, although it’s frustratingly located such that there’s not an easy way to access it by bike without twice having to cross a busy street. There’s no good “back way,” because all of the streets dead-end before they get where I want to go. None of this adds up to much of a complaint, but I know myself well enough to know that sometimes small impediments make the difference between my deciding something is worth doing and letting it go. (This concept also came up in a conversation I had with Matthew about outdoor furniture and whether it should have removable cushions that have to be brought in and out to comfortably use the space).

So imagine my delight when I was driving past the other day and saw that, with astonishing speed, a new grocery store had taken over an empty space in the shopping center just up the street from my new spot, that also houses one of my favorite local pizza spots. It’s a natural grocery chain, 0.4 miles away, entirely accessible by a residential street with no major traffic involved. This actually puts it in the zone that is usually easier and faster to access by bike, door to door, than in a car. I might have to get a second grocery bag pannier to stick on the rear rack on my bike. Little things like this are such great surprises. And empiricist though I am, I can’t help but take it as a little thumbs up from the universe, appreciating what I’m trying to do and helping me along.



Amy Knight is the fiction editor for Terrain.org. In this weekly blog series, she chronicles the process of designing and building an eco-friendly house in Tucson, Arizona. The series will explore both how it’s done and what it means, from the perspective of someone who wants to do the right thing but knows almost nothing about sustainable building. Look for new posts every Monday. You can email Amy at amy@terrain.org or leave a comment here.

photo credit: Bike Lane via photopin (license)

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