Before and after photos of green infrastructure in Dunbar/Spring Neighborhood

The Dunbar/Spring neighborhood in Tucson, Arizona has transformed excessively wide, hot, exposed streets with speeding cut-through traffic and solar oven-like, barren walkways to comparative oases with road-narrowing, traffic-calming, water-harvesting, green infrastructure and path-/road-side rain gardens growing a native food forest of sheltering multi-use plants indigenous to the Tucson Basin.

Dozens of species of native song birds and other wildlife have returned to this regenerated habitat; neighbors harvest, process, and eat wild foods grown; many more people now walk, run, or bicycle; flooding is reduced; the local aquifer is recharged; toxins from the street are bio-remediated by vegetation and other soil life; carbon is sequestered; the heat-island effect is abated; and all has become much more comfortable and beautiful.

Our hope is this will inspire more such action, change, and further evolution everywhere.

These green infrastructure installations are the result of a combination of efforts:

• Some funded by a Neighborhood Reinvestment Grant from Pima County, administered by the City of Tucson, applied for by the Dunbar/Spring Neighborhood Association, supervised by neighborhood activists, and stewarded by Dunbar/Spring Neighborhood Foresters and other volunteers.

• Some funded by funds obtained by the Dunbar/Spring Neighborhood Association and City of Tucson from a developer of student housing in exchange for giving the developer control of a City alleyway between the housing complex and its parking lot. Then coordinated, planted, and stewarded by Dunbar/Spring Neighborhood Foresters and other volunteers.

• Some funded and coordinated by adjoining property owners; then built, planted, and stewarded by same property owners along with the Dunbar/Spring Neighborhood Foresters and other volunteers.

The native vegetation in this green infrastructure was watered the first 1 to 3 years after planting to get its root system growing and established. Then supplemental irrigation was ceased and all is irrigated for free with the passively harvested stormwater.

(Though if new plantings are planted, they too will typically be supplementally irrigated the first 1 to years to get them established).

The Dunbar/Spring neighborhood chose to spend the half million dollar Neighborhood Reinvestiment grant it received from Pima County for four things:

Water harvesting

Tree planting

Traffic calming

Public art (made by local artists)

But instead of doing these things separately, they were integrated—for much greater effectiveness. So the water harvesting doubles as traffic calming, and the water harvesting freely waters the trees while also capturing and germinating more tree seed. The public art further tells the story of many of these efforts, and also calms traffic as those driving by slow down to see. Work funded by the grant was initiated in 2009 and completed by 2012.

Sign telling the story of the Sonora sucker fish and horned lizard sculpture.
Photo: Brad Lancaster

For more info and to help create and steward more such efforts:

Become a Neighborhood Forester or start a Neighborhood Forester group in your neighborhood

• If in Tucson, Arizona sign up to our Neighborhood Forester contact list

• Come see these installations for yourself. Start at the intersection of 9th Avenue and University Blvd as there are many information signs and installations within a half-block radius.

• Check out the full-color editions of the books Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond by Brad Lancaster that give you lots of info on how to design, implement, and steward these systems.