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Green Living in Community

Posted on July 30, 2008 by
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With oil prices on the rise, conserving energy is once again a hot topic in the news. Several articles have appeared recently on “green” living at intentional communities.

Boston.com, WFAA-8 (the ABC affiliate in Dallas/Fort Worth), and the Baltimore Sun are among the news outlets running an Associated Press article highlighting market trends toward “green” building. Nubanusit Neighborhood and Farm, a co-housing development that just began construction in New Hampshire, is used as an example of what to expect in the future. They report:

Recent market research by McGraw-Hill Construction projects that the green building market could account for $20 billion in sales, or 10 percent of the overall homebuilding market, this year. Those figures are expected to double within five years.

Starting next year, the U.S. Green Building Council will begin applying a version of its Leadership in Energy Environmental Design rating system to entire neighborhoods rather than single buildings. A pilot program launched early last year attracted so much interest that officials accepted more than 200 proposals, twice the number they sought.

Nubanusit Neighborhood and Farm is not part of the pilot program, but its 29 homes are being built to the council’s highest certification standards.

Read more here [boston.com], here [WFAA-8], or here [Baltimore Sun].

Another green community is generating attention in Israel. The Jerusalem Post featured an article on Kibbutz Lotan‘s green environmental strategies, and communal social ethic. The eco-friendly policies are highlighted as a central feature of this kibbutz:

Everyone seems to share a commitment to the creative ecology that’s become Lotan’s hallmark. Its famous Center for Creative Ecology, with its recycled water-wetlands, the bird reserve, straw-bale building construction technology and a host of other recycling projects have attracted favorable attention the world over. Even the UN recognized Lotan’s Ecovillage Design Education curriculum, a part of its Green Apprenticeship Program that attracts students for 10-week stints, housing them in straw-bale geodesic domes.

The article delves into some of the specific eco-friendly techniques implemented at Kibbutz Lotan.

In 1986, Lotan made the critical decision to go green. “I was a big recycler from the beginning,” Alex says. “The kibbutz itself didn’t start until later. Our first effort was to separate out organic waste for composting – and we immediately got into trouble. The regional authority came to empty our garbage cans, and they were empty. ‘We’re not coming in!’ they warned us. They learned to love us – we reduced our waste by 70 percent. After that, we started getting more creative, recycling all kinds of things.”

Water is among the things they recycle, not just once, but over and over. “For drinking water, recycled filters from the Eilat desalination plant are used in a reverse osmosis desalination plant that Mekorot – the national water company – maintains. Every house has two faucets: one for RO drinking water; the other for salty water, pumped from the aquifer. Everything that grows is watered with salty or recycled water. When water is short, you have to be creative.”

In terms of building materials, creative doesn’t begin to describe it. Here, buildings, benches and artistic flourishes of all kinds are constructed from recycled waste. Old tires packed tight with non-degradable plastic containers form the base, which is then covered with rock-hard “cement,” local mud mixed with straw. It dries, and then several coats of Lotan’s secret ingredient – used falafel oil – are painted on as a sealer. The result is incredibly beautiful. If it weren’t for an occasional “truth window” – exposed parts showing the inside – it would be hard to believe what’s underneath.

I imagine that a geodesic dome built from straw bales is a sight to behold!  Read the entire article here.

On the other hand, not every community labeled as “eco-friendly” is actually such. Buzz Blog reported on the UK’s plan to build carbon-neutral “ecotowns” in February. The UK government’s plan is to build town centers around sources of renewable energy, so that they have less of a carbon footprint. Opposition to this plan has cropped up from rural residents, who are upset that their rolling countryside and views of farms will be ruined by these new towns, and that they will have many new neighbors. Further, they argue that towns remote from work sites will increase commuter miles driven in cars.

The Christian Science Monitor reports:

… the innovative plan is pitting urbanites’ vision of green utopia against the ire of rural England, whose residents are loath to let their pristine environs be despoiled.

“This is completely the wrong site,” says Pete Seaward of Weston, a village in Oxfordshire shortlisted as an ecotown. He holds up a scenic picture of a local lake. “If they’re saying that it is ‘eco’ to build on and fill in a lake like that, they are dreaming.”

Ron Field, chairman of the parish council at Ford, another site on the eco-village shortlist, adds that there is huge local concern that this is just another ruse to allow developers to make money.

“We don’t want it because it’s plunked in the middle of a small hamlet in between two coastal towns which they spent millions and millions of pounds trying to regenerate,” he says.

“They’re building it on 600 acres of green field land which is used for growing food crops to feed the people that live in our area, and it’s all done as far as we can see for money.”

I find it hard to believe a lake would be drained to build an ecovillage, and wonder whether these are exaggerations on the part of villagers irate about something else. I wonder whether there is any other analysis of these “eco-towns”.


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