Monday, October 17, 2011

Standing on History

While researching the Escalante Neighborhood, I found myself looking at Google's map of our community garden. Unfortunately, the satellite view still hasn't been updated and still shows the garden as just another patch of lawn. However, the street map really captures the essence of the community garden. It even shows the delightful water feature running through.....Wait, what?

View Larger Map

After a brief discussion with Dave, he convinced me that our garden is sitting on top of a canal. Which was a delightful surprise because I was assuming we were in a dried up river bed and the next good rainfall would carry our newly sprouted radishes all the way out of Arizona.

Crisis averted, I found out that we are continuing a long tradition in living and creating green space around the Valley's canals. The Hohokam started this tradition and created a complex system of water distribution for agriculture that stretched over 100 miles. Although their civilization faded away (most likely because of drought), European explorers decided that the Hohokam had the right idea. Jack Swilling was the first one to decide that the canals were signs that this region could be agriculturally important. In response, he founded the town of "Pumpkinville."* Thankfully, members of the community later changed the name to Swilling's Mill, Helling Mill, and finally Phoenix.

In Phoenix's younger years, canals were integral to making life in the desert tolerable. Since they were originally uncovered and not lined with concrete as modern canals are, each canal supported large tree canopies and looked much more like natural rivers. These places became social spaces as people escaped the desert heat. Until air conditioning, the cool canal banks were also popular sleeping places in the summer. So don't be upset if you catch Dave or I napping in the garden, we are just continuing a long standing, but sadly neglected, tradition.

We aren't alone in our (until now accidental) attempt to restore the canals as social areas. I found that a group of urban planners have proposed making Phoenix's canals into social areas ( With the exception of some excellent bike trails, the Valley's canals are walled off and are quite easy for the everyday person to miss if they aren't actively looking for them. Canalscape argues that instead of covering them up, the canals can be used as an asset to improve the image and culture of Phoenix.

While the rest of the city gets it's act together, we will continue working here at the garden to beautify our small stretch of canal-front property.

*Speaking of Pumpkinville, check it out!

Not quite worth naming towns after, but these young pumpkins have popped up in the garden over the weekend.

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