For Sunset's fourth biennial salute to the West's best communities, we turned to the ultimate experts: our readers.

“I tell you,” says Rebecca S. Gephart, “it is one of the most unique communities you’ll ever come across and fall in love with.”

Gephart is talking about the community she moved into a few years ago: Civano, a development of more than 300 homes in the Sonoran Desert south of Tucson.

Civano is part of a growing trend in the West: “new urbanism,” which designs communities inspired by the best features of older, more established neighborhoods. Walk along Civano’s sidewalks, and you see houses with porches and ramadas that recall early Tucson architecture. Drought-tolerant landscaping ― emphasizing such desert natives as palo verde and mesquite ― reinforces the sense of place.

Civano also tries to make efficient use of resources. Water conservation is promoted through rainwater harvesting and xeriscaping. Optional building techniques emphasizing thick walls make Civano’s new homes 50 percent more energy-efficient than a standard new Tucson home. Most houses use solar energy in some form.

What else makes Civano special? Neighbors can communicate via their own website or talk the old-fashioned way over coffee at the activity center or over mulch at the Civano Community Garden.

Civano Essentials


ELEVATION: 2,400 feet



LOCAL PLEASURE: Plant shopping at Civano Nursery

INFORMATION: (888) 224-8266

More Great Communities

Belle Creek, in Commerce City, Colorado. The homes here, 8 miles northeast of Denver, have large front porches that give the streetscape an early-20th-century look. Affordability is an important component. (303) 288-9300.

Issaquah Highlands, in Issaquah, Washington. Situated 18 miles east of Seattle, this community is distinguished by vest-pocket parks. One new neighborhood, Crofton Springs, is designed around a stream and includes garden cottages and loftlike homes. (425) 427-2244.

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