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.
Join us for a fun-filled event to showcase our neighborhood to the greater Tucson community! All are welcome, so invite your friends and family to join us on Sunday October 16th from 1pm-3pm. The tour will feature homes, gardens, local businesses, public art, and green infrastructure. Tickets will be $5 day-of the event and can be picked up at the Neighborhood Garden- NW corner of 11th Avenue and University Boulevard. 50% of all proceeds will benefit Caridad Community Kitchen!
Today, May 28, the green seeds within the green foothills palo verde seed pods are ripe and sweet. Soon they will become starchy, then hard and brown.
And next will be the mesquite pod harvest.
To get more info on all this and more check out the Calendar of Events at DesertHarvesters.org, which all started right here in our neighborhood with our annual tree plantings and the mesquite milling fiestas we used to have in the community garden.
Now many of the events occur at the Santa Cruz River Farmers Market as we are collaborating with the Tucson Community Food Bank. This year the Mesquite Milling and Fiesta is June 23 to ensure a safer harvest before the rains come we pods are more susceptible to invisible molds.
At the Fiesta we will also have a smoked mesquite apple craft beer and another with creosote blossoms - both from Iron John's Brewery here in Tucson. The mesquite in the beer was grown and harvested right here in Dunbar/Spring.
Zinman's Food Shop, at 111 W Fourth St, is a purveyor and processor of plant based foods. We sell produce in season and mill grain into flour, which we sell and also bake into cookies, muffins, scones, and flat breads.
We have hummus and other freshly made bean dips and other items that are ready to eat. We also have a vegan cafe featuring wok cooked vegetables for lunch and supper and pancakes (with freshly milled flour) for breakfast. Our hours for now are weekdays from 11:00 a.m.to 7:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 7:00 a.m.to 7:00 p.m. Our hours will expand as we grow into this space.
The story of Dunbar, the neighborhood that took tis name from the school in its midst, is in many ways the story of America. An almost forgotten 160-acre swatch of land north of the town of Tucson, Arizona, it was inhabited by a hardy mix of Anglos, Mexicans, Yaqui Indians, colored people (as African-Americans were called then), and Chinese. Separated from downtown Tucson by the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks, Dunbar's northernmost blocks had been the Court Street Cemetery since 1875.
Twenty-three volunteers and neighbors showed up to help plant rain (with water-harvesting basins/earthworks, twenty-two food- and medicinal-bearing native trees, and fertility (with cut up prunings placed within the basins).
This brings the total number of trees planted at our neighborhood’s annual tree plantings to about 1,425! This was also the 20th annual tree planting by Dunbar/Spring neighbors!
And still more need to be planted.
This image shows areas with higher and lower heat extremes. Areas with higher vulnerability are orange and yellow. Areas with lowest vulnerability are blue. Green areas are shade tree canopies. Shade trees and other vegetation are one of the best ways to mitigate extreme heat event vulnerability due to their natural passive cooling ability, which can reduce summer temperatures by up to 20˚F.