Defining the Model
What makes a community work? The community model presented here applies innovative and successful methods of green building, mixed-use land planning, and community development created by EcoVillage at Ithaca, to more mainstream settings. This model was designed to incorporate thoughtful design of the built environment and to facilitate more thoughtful individual and community behavior choices.
The result is a community committed to maximizing quality of life and the sustainability of our environment. Based on 20 years of experience, EcoVillage at Ithaca has distilled a list of 10 guiding principles for developing a community that works!
1. Green Building, energy efficiency, and Renewable EnergyThere are many technologies available today to help reduce the energy needed to heat, cool, or power our homes. The systems listed below are readily available and using selected systems together can make significant contributions toward the goal of reducing energy consumption by 80%.
- Solar hot water systems
- Geothermal systems
- Wind power
- Super insulation (e.g. soy based spray foam, dense packed cellulose)
- New vapor barriers/tapes to control air infiltration
- Radiant-barrier roofs
- Double and triple glazed low-emittance (Low-E) windows
- Energy recovery ventilators
- Home automation – motion sensors, programmable thermostats,
- CFL and LED lighting
- On-demand hot water heaters
- Low flow showers, faucets and dual-flush toilets
- Radiant Floor heating
- PEX plumbing
- Native landscaping
2. Densely Clustered Housing
In a 100 acre plot, for example, a developer can comfortably build 80 homes on a footprint of less than 10 acres and preserve the surrounding 90 acres for farming, natural features, and wildlife habitat. This approach improves walkability and efficiency, minimizes suburban and rural sprawl and allows for more compelling natural features for residents to enjoy.
On a group of adjacent urban lots currently zoned for just one single family home each, there are ways to increase density by clustering homes in a pattern more consistent with a pre-automobile traditional neighborhood. Carriage houses, cottages, duplexes and common green spaces shared by all residents are some ways to achieve lower consumption of resources and still fit into the character of the neighborhood.
3. Modeling Low Resource UsePedestrian-centered neighborhoods which incorporate energy saving technologies and construction can achieve significant energy savings as a result of design features of the individual homes, thoughtful design of the overall neighborhood, and resource-efficient behavior choices embraced by community residents. Orienting buildings in a community to maximize passive solar energy use, utilizing energy technologies such as solar panels for individual or community use, and creating social structures to share responsibility for community gardens and composting facilities are all good examples of energy saving and quality of life enhancing practices.
4. Strong Social TiesThis model represents communities that enhance residents’ quality of life with a conscientious incorporation of increased community interactions. Some communities may achieve this through neighborhood design that allows for aging in place and mixed-generation housing (e.g. ADA accessible housing, multi-unit small homes or homes with adjacent cottages). Other communities may achieve strong social ties through the creation of a housing cooperative based on “Cohousing” practices with shared common facilities that accommodate social events, and weekly community meals. Building a neighborhood with community interaction in mind creates improved physical and social support systems.
5. Local Food ProductionAccess to locally produced food is essential to a sustainable and self-reliant community. This access can take the form of fruit and vegetable stands, local markets with local produce, neighborhood pick-up for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm shares, and for those communities with access to farmable land, on-site community gardens and/or farms. For example, the Aurora Pocket Neighborhood (APN) in Ithaca is a drop-off site for a local CSA farm share where APN residents and their surrounding neighbors can pick up weekly shares of seasonal vegetables. EcoVillage at Ithaca has two resident-owned farms which supply organic fruits and vegetables to 1,500 County residents during the growing season. The Cayuga Townhomes neighborhood will incorporate a large community garden.
6. On-Site BusinessesDaily commuting to work constitutes the largest share of gasoline consumption for American drivers, particularly given that we tend to drive separately – one person per car. Mixed-use neighborhood designs that incorporate both residential and business space significantly decrease the gas consumption of community residents. In EcoVillage at Ithaca, almost half (45%) of wage-earning residents work or telecommute from home offices, or provide services for neighbors, lessening the need for commuting.
7. Extensive Composting, Recycling and Re-useAlthough composting meat kitchen scraps can require specialized composting facilities, all non-meat kitchen scraps can be composted with resident cooperation and modest technology and materials. In EcoVillage at Ithaca, residents compost all non-meat kitchen scraps, recycle all recyclable materials, and have cut the community need for garbage services by 75%.
8. Affordable, AccessibleUsing high performance building techniques can dramatically reduce the overall cost of homeownership by lowering utility bills. Living in close proximity to work, shopping, and recreation or having easily accessible transit service can lower or eliminate transportation costs. Allowing a mix of uses including home offices and accessory apartments can also contribute to the economic bottom line. Making these units ADA accessible can provide opportunity for a greater demographic mix including everyone from young families to seniors aging in place.
9. Open Space PreservationIn suburban and rural developments, it is important to minimize the area of disturbance for erosion and sediment control, stormwater management, and to preserve as much open space as possible for agriculture, natural meadows, forests and ponds. Urban infill projects provide more housing options for people to live within the borders of already developed areas, thus reducing the pressure to develop on virgin land. Densely clustering housing and preserving open space go hand in hand.
10. Hands on EducationMany of us understand the value of creating healthy sustainable lifestyles but don’t know what changes to make. We align with the philosophy behind the need for change but don’t know the tangible steps to make this change happen. Thoughtful neighborhood design combined with community organization can create space and support for establishing regular educational opportunities for residents. Additionally, the lessons learned from planned communities are important knowledge to share. For example, EcoVillage at Ithaca –Center for Sustainability Education (EVI-CSE) works closely with local colleges and provides at least one accredited course per semester on the topic of community sustainability. EVI-CSE also provides tours for about 1,000 visitors a year, and currently has two robust educational programs – Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming, and the EPA Climate Showcase Communities.