Ten years ago, before the current green craze hit the media and gained the public's attention, the City of Tucson and a long list of agencies realized a goal for a sustainable community named Civano. The goals were visionary for the time: reduce the consumption of energy, water, and pollution to levels significantly below baseline levels for Metropolitan Tucson. These goals were to be achieved by building structures for shade, use of reflective building materials, using native plants for landscaping, and using gray water for irrigation. The community design was intended to favor walking and biking rather than driving, with less private land and more community land than was customary in subdivisions in the Southwest.
This may not seem so revolutionary, but Tucson, because of its warm climate, is very popular with retirees from other areas. Too many wanted to recreate some of the features where they came from, including grass lawns. With an annual rainfall of only twelve inches a year, grass lawns and palm trees (another water-thirsty favorite) require too much supplemental water to be practical. With the Colorado River drying up from over-population and unwise water usage, using water for landscaping is not something we in the Southwest can afford to do.
Homes in Civano use water harvesting for the native and desert-adapted plants allowed in the community. This can be as simple as directing rainwater during our brief, but intense, monsoon thunderstorms toward the plantings around our homes by grading and placement of rocks at the end of downspouts, to cisterns that catch this same rainwater from roofs and store it for later usage. This maximizes the little rainfall that we do get.
On the other hand, we have an abundance of sunshine. Every home in Civano (and Civano II and Sierra Morado, neighboring sections of the original community) has hot water courtesy of the sun. In addition to solar hot water, many homes have added solar panels to supply electricity.
Some things haven't worked out as planned. Decreasing automobile usage is one of them. In the original Civano, a central area with space for businesses was part of the plan so people could walk to work. There haven't been many businesses that have enabled those jobs. And, ironically, the community has been unsuccessful in persuading SunTran, the Tucson bus company, to extend a route to the community where the usage per capita would probably be higher than anywhere else in the city.
But there are still people who believe in the dream. On Saturday, October 17, there will be a day-long party for all of Tucson and the surrounding area to celebrate 10 years of sustainable living. I plan to be there.