When I moved to the Dunbar/Spring neighborhood in 1994 much of it was not a pleasant place to walk.
Most of the public right-of-way (the area between the street curb and property lines/fences) was just hot, bare dirt devoid of shade trees and other life. There were few sidewalks, but thankfully there was plenty of room for earthen footpaths. Yet many people parked atop the footpaths rather than parking on the street. I’m afraid my brother and I were guilty of this too (fig. 1A). This was partly due to a fear that the cars would get broken into if parked on the street. This fear was due in part to there not being many neighbors’ eyes on the street. Which was due in part to having impassible footpaths, and you did not want to hang out or look out into the bleak lifeless street environment. Another problem was the traffic in the streets…
The neighborhood at that time was often rife with speeding cut-through traffic (especially on the east-west streets), which would often collide with slower moving pets or cars parked on the street. Thus I did not consider the hot streets to be a viable alternative to walking in the right of way.
But there was much to love about the community, and a number of neighbors saw great potential for simple transformations of the negatives to positives, with the past and present sometimes informing the future. For example, before she passed away, Dunbar school alumni and activist Willie Fears told me that many decades ago when she was a child, trees lined Main Avenue and its footpath to downtown, enabling kids to walk there barefoot in summer from our neighborhood and back.
Those trees were all gone when I moved here, but an oasis could be (and still can be) found on Perry Avenue between University Blvd and 2nd Street where South American mesquite trees planted by neighbors in the 1980s canopied over most of the street. Steve Leal obtained well over a hundred of these trees, which were planted by volunteers around the neighborhood. But many of these trees were eventually lost as they blew over or were leaning so much they had to be removed. On the northwest corner of Perry and University Blvd a different tree, a huge native desert ironwood tree grew (and still grows)—planted many years ago by Elizabeth Upham who bought it as a seedling in a one-gallon pot from Target.
These and other tree stories and plantings inspired then newcomers such as myself, along with longer-term residents to begin in 1996 what has become an annual neighborhood tree-planting project, which brings neighbors together to plant native, food-bearing trees along our streets, walkways, and property lines. As we planted, we found cars moved to the street (figs. 2A and B). Where we did this the neighborhood immediately felt enhanced and more cared for. Native songbirds, butterflies, and pollinators returned to the growing habitat. More people started walking and bicycling in the neighborhood. Crime dropped.
Since 1996 our neighborhood’s annual tree planting project has resulted in neighbors planting over 1,400 trees! Still more were planted before 1996, or since by individual efforts outside of the neighborhood programs.
(Recommended reading section - pages 20-23) From October 2013 through May 2014, Living Streets Alliance conducted a Neighborhood Walkability Assessment Program in five neighborhoods. The Program was informed by participant feedback and lessons learned from the pilot phase of the program (February to April 2013).
After a long, but productive process the Dunbar/Spring Neighborhood, working with many entities including the Pima County and the City of Tucson, has finished putting in extensive water harvesting infrastructure, native vegetation, traffic circles, chicanes, neighborhood art, and more.
We celebrated completion of the project on Saturday morning, braving cold and rain. Thank you to everyone who made it out. Special thanks to neighborhood's own Green Gourmet catering for great food and drink for the event.