Civano: Model for the Future of Business as Usual

Danika Brown
"Sustainable development requires that one explore the social,
environmental and economic impact of a decision."
Civano 34
 Humans do not tread lightly in this world. And, while it is difficult to reach any consensus on what the implications of human behavior in the world are, it is clear that there are implications to human behavior. Humans impact other humans; and humans alter and impact the physical world in which they live. Making judgments on those impacts requires a set of criteria, a means to articulate what is the case and what ought to be the case, and an analysis of specific human actions in relation to that framework. Often, when those criteria are articulated˝rather than left unspoken, assumed, and naturalized˝the judgments made regarding specific actions can be understood differently, interests and costs can be revealed, and different decisions can be made. This articulation and reevaluation is the nature of critique. Because I believe critique is productive, not only in terms of revealing whose interests are and are not served in specific situations, but as a means of envisioning and articulating alternative possibilities, I would like to engage in such a critique of a local project˝the Civano development.

 This critique will analyze the discourse surrounding Civano˝an especially important endeavor given that Civano exists more through discourse than through physical manifestation at this point˝to determine the ways that Civano is constructed as a "solution" to a problem and a model for future solutions. What this critique hopes to uncover is the manner in which the "problem" is framed, and the limitations to that frame and this solution. This critique hopes to reveal that Civano does not "solve" the problems it needs to solve, and perhaps not even the problems it purports to solve. Finally, this critique will suggest some alternative ways the "problem" might be understood and addressed.

Constructing the "Vision" on the Foundation of Sustainable Development
 Civano, in the rhetoric of its promoters, began as a "community vision" in 1981 when then governor, Bruce Babbitt encouraged a group of builders to expand on the 10 home Tucson Solar Village. Over the next decade, a "complex partnership of city, county, state, and federal government agencies, in cooperation with various community and citizen groups" (and, I'd add, corporate partners) worked together to construct a plan for a "sustainable" development community (Magazine 2).The project vision included a housing development that incorporated the most innovative environmental resource use technologies (such as solar heating and alternative building materials), a community that was designed around a "small-town" feel and reduced automobile traffic with a neighborhood center, retail, and recreation areas, and an "Environmental Technology Industry Park," home to industry creating technologies that will address environmental issues, natural resource use, and provide jobs for the residents of Civano.

 Based on these projections, the State Land Department set aside 818 acres which the City of Tuscon re-zoned and sold to Civano developers for $2.7 million with the stipulation that the land would be developed in accord with an "Integrated Method of Performance and Cost Tracking (IMPACT) System for Sustainable Development"˝requirements developed by the city council in 1995 apparently in response to the development plans of Civano. The city also provided $3 million in infrastructure support, private developers contributed an additional $20 million, and most recently, Fannie Mae became the majority owner in Civano through its American Communities Fund (Magazine 3-4).

 Civano opened its development doors in 1998 and in its first phase is building 100 homes. It is projected to be home to around 2,600 families. Currently, it boasts a neighborhood center with a coffee house and other retail stores (mostly home decorating and home improvement technologies), a nursery and garden center, and builder's offices. All of the buildings showcase alternative building technologies that use significantly less natural resources for construction and operation. Civano offers home improvement, waste reduction, energy conservation, and alternative landscaping workshops to its residents and the local community. Models of the expected 10 phases of Civano development include neighborhoods with "pedestrian friendly" streets, charter schools, the industrial park, and areas "set aside" to be preserved as natural recreation sites for biking, hiking, and "preserving" natural habitats.

 The foundation of the Civano "vision" is based entirely upon the discourse of sustainable development. Civano is touted as the "largest sustainable development community," and all of its promotional literature works from the promise of sustainable development. While a concrete definition of sustainable development has been much contested, the premise of the discourse is that production and development can occur in a vaguely speaking "benign" way that does not completely deplete natural resources employed in production. In its most progressive sense, sustainable development describes resource use as extremely efficient, self-renewing, and having less impact on a larger environmental system. The Civano Magazine identifies sustainable development production as "[having] a benign production process that produces no harmful waste products" and adheres to the "principles of sustainability" which will "result in better productivity" (32). Other features of "sustainability" that the Civano discourse emphasizes include: "high efficiency," "renewable energy," and "designing for tomorrow" (12). Civano's promise of sustainable development is an unquestioned framework presented as a "creative, practical solution" (12). But, what exactly is the "problem" that sustainable development purports to solve?

 As Arturo Escobar and others have pointed out, solutions proposed within a "sustainable development" framework already assume the problem to be lack of development or inappropriately conducted development. However sustainable development is particularized, as a  "solution" it assumes several things: development and production must occur; natural resource use can be measured in some objective fashion and depletion implications can be predicted satisfactorily; exploitation of those resources is a necessary good. According to Escobar, the discourse of sustainable development does not radically alter any understanding of human relationships to "the environment," but rather, further reifies that relationship. That is, sustainable development constructs the environment as the "problem" to be managed more effectively by humans in order to solve inefficiencies in development: "Becoming a new client of the development apparatus by adopting the sustainable development discourse means accepting the scarcity of natural resources as a given fact; this leads environmental managers into stressing the need to find the most efficient forms of using resources without threatening the survival of nature and people" (53). In sustainable development discourse, then, the environment is treated as something "out there" to be reckoned with; the environment becomes the problem. Human systems of production are not called into question except at the level of how to utilize the environment more efficiently.

 The discourse promoting Civano continually reinscribes the relationship of humans to their "natural surroundings" within this framework. In a Civano Magazine article, "Learning What Nature Always Knew About Water," the reader is told, "Brad Lancaster, a teacher at the Permaculture Drylands Institute, reminds us that builders either contribute to the degeneration of nature by paving over it, or the regeneration of nature by working within an ecological system" (11). The President of Community Design Associates (a Civano corporate partner) says, "Good designers learn how to work with the land. Great designs mimic the lessons and rhythms of natural systems. Design and planning is a creative process that, if done properly, can be a catalyst for developing community in harmony with nature" (11). The homes of Civano, the reader is told, "are built to take advantage of positive environmental planning considerations influenced by the sun, wind, and earth" (6). Another brochure claims Civano "is an environmentally and pedestrian-friendly communty, being developed around the principles of sustainability, with interdependence of environmental and resource efficiency, social responsibility, and economic viability" (Information). The problem, it would appear from this discourse, is that humans are currently living out of synch with the environment. The solution is to develop homes and industry on previously undeveloped land in a way that harnesses the "rhythms" of nature for more efficient and harmonious human living, leading to the economic good of productivity.

 Framing the problem and the solution in this fashion is an extremely strategic rhetorical move in terms of Civano constructing the sustainability of its own discourse by embedding itself well within the dominant economic discourse, and actual economic interests of powerful agents. The Civano Magazine states that, "Sustainable development is an emerging market that will generate new technology and jobs" (32). What becomes clear is that this discourse is a sort of investment that sustains itself through promoting a dominant system by bringing to the table the State and corporate interests invested in reproducing the framework for this problem and solution.

Sustaining the Discourse
 Civano is repeatedly touted for being a successful "private-public" partnership. Invested in Civano's success are all levels of the State˝local, state, and federal. Additionally, all of the public utilities, Tucson Electric Company, Southwest Gas, and USWest--have partnered with Civano builders, offering guaranteed rates and incentives for builders and homeowners in the development. The Civano Magazine has over four full pages of business card sized acknowledgments of partners, mostly corporate, including banks, title and mortgage companies, insurance providers, lawyers, interior design, and home technology suppliers. These are not simply rhetorical endorsements of Civano. All of these parties, the State and corporate entities, have significant capital investments in the development.

 Not surprisingly then, Civano has achieved accolades and praise from State representatives at the local and state level˝Mayor Miller, Governor Hull, Congressman Kolbe˝as well as nationally from President Clinton and Vice President Gore, and the U.S. Department of Energy. National sustainable development environmental groups have touted Civano as a case-study and model for the future. In fact, it is very difficult to differentiate Civano's promotional literature from the "public" discourse about the development. For example, a press release from Congressman Kolbe's office states: "Completion of the first Űsustainable neighborhood' in an 1,100-acre community designed to house 2,600 families is an example of Űthe benefits society accrues when private sector initiatives blend with public sector goals on land-use,' Congressman Jim Kolbe said." The Clinton administration endorsed Civano by naming it as one of five pilot programs in The National Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing, "selected for their highly innovative technologies as well as for new approaches for land planning and design, are models for the U.S. residential construction industry" (PATH). A PATH article on Civano quotes

U.S. Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson as commending Civano: "This new, more livable community, integrating the best in solar technologies and efficient construction practices, is an outstanding example of the success that can be achieved when government and private sector partners work together to address the challenges of the future." The Department of Energy lists Civano, with its careful attention to environmental conservation and cost/benefit measurements, a "Success Story." Publications from environmental organizations such as Green Clips commend Civano as a model for sustainable development and responsible capitalism: "This investment is helping the city learn about building and operating more sustainable communities, knowledge it wants to transfer to the rest of the Tucson area since it believes that sustainable design can reduce the city's annual costs" ("Why"). It is in fact difficult to find criticism of Civano in the mainstream media.
 Additionally, although the discourse surrounding Civano often mentions "community and citizen groups," it appears that the community groups are largely constructions of Civano interests˝there are no specific community or nonprofit organizations outside of Civano created groups in any of the literature. In fact, it becomes clear through much of the discourse that Civano is a joint capital and State supported project. The "community" or "citizens" in the Civano discourse may actually be understood as the "consumer." Community is framed as either the residents or potential residents of Civano, or the greater "Tucson"--a community which stands to learn a great deal from Civano's innovative use of environmentally-friendly sustainable development. In a "Guest Comment" feature in the Arizona Daily Star, Lisa Stage and Philip Franchine laud Civano for overcoming and altering Tucson's development obstacles and suggest that Civano can teach Tucson development principles that will combat "ugly and costly" sprawl. They end their article by saying, "During the next nine phases of Civano, we need to keep the dialogue open. We need to continue to work toward a Civano that can live up to the community's high standards" (emphasis added). The language here suggests that some larger community or citizenry is shaping the agenda for Civano, and we all should be democratically involved. But is there a democratic conversation going on, or simply the creation of consumers and market choice?

 The Civano site itself utilized an internet bulletin board apparently to encourage healthy democratic input into the development of the "community vision" of Civano. A look at a few of the threads from the site reveals that the bulletin board functioned more as an advertising venue and a direct sales support forum for Civano, demonstrating the way in which community interest is shaped, in this discourse, as consumerism. For example, one thread began with the question, "Is Civano borrowing anything from cohousing concepts? I think cohousing is great, but would love to see the concepts incorporated into a larger community plan like Civano." As with all the threads, eventually (generally sooner than later) a Civano representative chimes in and provides an answer. The answer here was, in part: "Civano intends to be inclusive and does not fear diversity.  We are about creating community, as well as conserving other natural resources." The representative quickly shifts the design question about the possibility of alternative social communities, already having constructed "community" as just another "natural resource", back to the rhetoric of sustainable development: "The guidelines have focused primarily on energy conservation, water conservation, building materials selections relative to non-toxicity and embodied energy." Finally, in a fairly indicative moment of the discourse, the representative ends his response, and the thread, with the patronizing comment, "Thank you for your interest.  If you have particular recommendations from your perspective, I would be willing to consider them" (Co-housing). Other threads, those that were based on questions which did not suggest any radical change in plans for Civano, were answered in much more sales-friendly ways, though still focused on selling the natural resource solutions. For example, in response to a question about accessibility for people with disabilities, a Civano representative says, "At the very least, with the energy and excitement involved in this project, we hope that many things will be special beyond building access (i.e. solar technologies, waste reduction etc.).  However, if we are not able to get EVERYTHING  right in the first phase, you won't need to wait too long because we will improve upon the project in phase two, three, four..." (Accessibility). Those concerned citizens considering shaping Civano needn't be concerned; eventually, all possible consumer needs will be met.

 What the various discourses here reveal is a complex web of interests and players, dominated by corporate and State financial motivation. Therefore, the discursive frame presents a problem˝the need for innovative, sustainable development˝the solution˝Civano's mixed-use, planned community˝and, ultimately, the market for the solution˝the citizenry as consumer. The discourse continually makes reference to Civano's concern for environmental, social, and economic impact, when in fact, Civano addresses "environmental" and "social" concerns solely through an economic framework. Civano is an economic interest, first. Its discourse sustains itself through economic interest, just as sustainable development defines itself first through economic impact. What are the implications of such a construct?

Civano: Creating and Fulfilling a Need
 As an economic endeavor, Civano is brilliant. The developers of Civano have seized the rhetorical day and have created a site at which need, market, and product are created simultaneously. Civano has secured its own discursive success by making the most powerful interests stakeholders in the development itself. The developers of Civano recognized that Tucson's rate of development is the site of much contention. But, according to the pervasive dominant discourse, development in this "fragile desert environment" (Mayor Miller qtd in PATH) must occur, the 180,000 expected newcomers to this region (Stage) must be accommodated. Given that naturalized growth necessity, the visionaries of Civano recognized that obstacles to development in a "fragile" environment could be overcome if the appearance of progressive environmental design were promoted. The Department of Energy's profile of Civano reinscribes that naturalization by quoting a Civano representative: "ŰPeople come to live in Tucson because of its beautiful desert environment,' says John Laswick, Civano's project manager. ŰIronically though, more of the desert must be destroyed in order for more people to live here. Our goal is to attract people and to preserve the desert environment'" (Success).

 Civano, then, constructs itself as being responsive to the necessary frame of supply and demand for development. Consequently, developers are able to purchase previously state owned land, develop it, not only as a housing development, but as an industrial and retail park. Additionally, the developers receive government subsidies and support in order to construct what amounts to an innovative suburb. In designing the development, Civano creates a space for new technology industry even while they construct a market for those technologies. The industrial park will design energy and natural resource saving technologies for homes and businesses to be sold to the homes and businesses in the industrial park. Further, a good number of the employee pool for this industrial park will be homeowners, consumers of the industry. Wages will in many ways be funneled back into the industry itself. Civano developers and supporting players have certainly considered the economic impact of their decisions. But, what of the social and environmental implications Civano purports to address?
 Civano appears to address "social impact" in several ways. The discourse employs notions of "community," "safety," "pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods," and "lifestyle" in all its promotional materials. "Civano: It's the Way You Live," is the developments slogan, afterall. The commentaries on Civano cite its concern with creating safe and friendly neighborhoods devoid of the negative aspects of urban dwelling˝crime, traffic, pollution˝as an innovative approach to community building (and with the deliverable of saving money for the city in policing (PATH)). However, it is important to notice that Civano does not in actuality solve any existing social problems. What Civano does do is enable those who can afford to, to buy a home in a suburb outside of city limits to escape existing social problems. The construct of the ideal lifestyle that Civano offers, is very much a classed construction of coffee, desert, and art (aside from the builders' offices, a nursery, and solar technology stores, the only independently operational businesses currently in Civano is a coffee house and an art gallery). All of the current building options are single family units designed to allow you (the homeowner) "to visit with your neighbors, or to enjoy some solitude" (Magazine 6). The existence of a homeowners' association and CC&R's ensure that the "Civano Lifestyle" will continue to be controlled by dominant homeowner (read classed) interests. The "community building" of Civano is a highly self-selective, homogenous process, ensured by "affordable" housing kept to a minimum of 20% and starting at $90,000.

 Further, while Civano hopes to provide every two households with one job, the rest of the Civano population that needs to work will have to commute from Civano to Tucson; and it is quite likely that not all of the people working in Civano will live there. The sales representative I spoke with on my "Grand Tour of Civano" did not live in Civano, nor did she plan to. She did let me know how easy the commute out to Civano was, however. Currently, Civano is too far out to even be on a city bus line. I was assured that "they" were working on that, but it would probably not be until one of the future phases of the development for that to be a reality. In their "Guest Comment" in the Star, Stage and Franchine address this criticism by saying, "Figures from the Pima Association of Governments show that only 4 percent of jobs are located downtown. Most jobs are located along a wide swath running roughly from the airport to the intersection of Tanque Verde and Kolb. This means Civano, which has taken criticism for being Űremote,' is closer to the job-heavy area than many new and existing developments" (F1).  This defense seems highly problematic in regard to a project which purports to radically impact environmental and social problems; doesn't this suggest that Civano is simply perpetuating problems that currently exist and are recognized as such?

 And that, it seems to me, is the problem with Civano in a nutshell. Civano does not radically alter systemic conditions which are the major causes not only of pollution and environmental degradation, but also social displacement and class divisions. The development of Civano is in many ways, simply another housing development removed from the urban center of the city which supports it. The houses are attractive and certainly more efficient and environmentally smart than other development tracts. Stage and Franchine are right when they say, "We all know how ugly and costly sprawl is," and Civano, in the realm of housing developments and sprawl certainly looks an awful lot more attractive than other developments. But, the discourse that enables Civano and constructs it as the model for the future is far more dangerous than your run of the mill housing development. If the model for the future entails emptying out more urban centers, developing more undeveloped land for a privileged class to escape to, funded and facilitated by State monies, subsidies, and perks (such as guaranteed electric rates and increased borrowing power/equity based on environmental technologies), what we are looking at is a commodification of "nature" as a resource available to those who can afford it, ever-increasing social stratification, and the homogenizing, hegemonizing of feel-good isolated communities.
Alternative Criteria, Alternative Solutions
 When we look at analyses of the motivations and framing of the Civano solution, what is apparent is that Civano represents an economic project, the success of which is measured in terms of its potential to further corporate interests, exploit "nature" as a commodified resource, and serve the social interests of an already privileged class.  While Civano is rhetorically framed as considering  "social, environmental and economic impact" of development decisions, as the Civano Magazine claims, the lens for the "social" and "environmental" has been demonstrated to be determined by the dominant economic system. What if a project genuinely took the social and environmental impacts seriously and allowed those implications to actually determine the decisions? What if "economic" considerations were framed within a different set of social and environmental criteria? Could alternative solutions present themselves?

 Clearly, I believe so. Even if we do not radically remove ourselves from the economic system that shapes the necessity to produce and develop, we can articulate alternative approaches that address already existing inequities and conditions that contribute to the degradation of the environment and social conditions. For example, rather than enabling (and encouraging) the development of alternative sprawl, might not the State support and require the re-development of already existing urban sites? Further, might not the State consider the obvious that those who would most benefit from energy efficient building, guaranteed lower rates from power and gas companies, and cleaner environments are those who can least afford to secure those benefits? Would it not be a more appropriate way to address the "social" implications of a decision to subsidize the re-development of low income housing developments that currently exist and desperately need assistance?

 What if the "model" for the future did not pretend to put humans in "harmony" with a natural environment by further manipulating and "preserving" previously undeveloped land through development? What if the model for the future focused on eliminating the social inequities in living and working conditions that force a whole class of people into poor environmental conditions and practices?  What if alternative energy sources were not framed as commodities, priced as luxuries, manipulated as products within a system that arbitrarily constructs supply and demand mechanisms, and, instead were viewed as necessities to be made available to everyone? What if the State were responsive to the needs of the people, responsible for genuinely eliminating factors which contribute to social and environmental degradation, rather than to the will for profit of corporate interests? What if the actual communities impacted by environmental and development issues were represented and heard?

 In an alternative framework, Civano would not be a "public-private venture" utilizing a network of state monies and power to further the interests of an already privileged class. At best, Civano would be a corporate housing and industrial park developed on an alternative site. The powerful and unquestioned rhetorical endorsements of an obviously undemocratic venture such as Civano would not exist to efface the more relevant issues of class and exploitation (human and environmental) as it currently does. Even within the problematic rhetoric of democracy, a genuinely alternative framework, one which was responsive to social and environmental inequity rather than dominant economic interests surely would look more like a democracy than a plutocracy.

 Of course, enactment of any alternatives to projects like Civano, would require citizens and the State to be willing to disrupt "business as usual." Even discussing the possibility of alternative frameworks requires critique of the discourse of projects such as Civano, revealing whose interests are actually being served. The discourse of hegemony, of capital interests, works hard to convince its subjects that the big black paved road of progress is "natural" and necessary. I would submit that that paved road is no more natural or necessary than the jackhammer that critique offers to use to break it up.

Works Cited
 "Accessibility." Civano Community Bulletin Board. October 9, 1997.

 "Civano, Arizona." Center for Excellence in Sustainable Development: Green Buildings Success Stories." U.S. Department of Energy.

 Civano Magazine. Builders Profiles, Inc. (Available in print and online at
 Civano Informational and Sales Brochure. The Community of Civano, LLC. Tucson. (Available in print from

 "Co-Housing." Civano Community Bulletin Board. February 11, 1997.

 Cooperation Produces Top-Notch Residential Housing." April 15, 1999.

 Escobar, Arturo. "Constructing Nature." In Liberation Ecologies: environment, development, social movements. Ed. Richard Peet and Michael Watts. Routledge: London, 1996. 1-45.

 Kolbe, Jim (Congressman). "Press Release: Civano Project Shows How Private, Public Sector "PATH National Pilot Civano Opens First Sustainable Neighborhood Homes . . . Tucson Community to be the Nation's Largest Sustainable Living Development." Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing. April 19, 1999.

 Stage, Lisa and Philip Franchine. "Civano: An Alternative to Sprawl." The Arizona Daily Star. September 19, 1999: 1F.

 "Why Tucson Likes Civano" Greenclips. Sustainable Design Resources, 1999. 101 08.12.98