For a while (OK, years) I’ve thought about how the collective we might go about “saving” that grand ol’ plan of post-WWII expansion known as “suburbia”. Clearly, at the time it sounded like a good idea, but with time comes wisdom and of course, hindsight. Alas we now know that it is at the heart of why the U.S. is leads the world in carbon emissions. You just can’t walk to the store when it’s ten miles and half-a-dozen-40-mile-per-hour-no-sidewalk roads away.
But what if you could start over? Re-architect the whole thing? Build it from the ground up with sustainability woven into every single construction-laden fiber?
I guess that’s the idea behind the eco-village concept. And last week, that hit home with this interesting announcement.
Clearly, if you’re coming to the table with this kind of plan, you’re coming out swinging. Hence you hire a PR agency to pitch it with all the fanfare and spotlights you can (those spotlights, mind you, help to blind you from the details, which many times are scant at this point in the whole thing). You have some fresh concept posters. You give it a cool name.
All that aside, this thing is massive. Six hundred and fifty acres spanning both sides of a major highway; industrial and residential mix-use areas; pre-powered with its own wind and solar arrays build in; agriculture, retail, trails; the list goes on. New zip code anyone?
Not wanting to pass an uninformed judgment, I set out to learn more about other eco-villages. What I found was interesting.
The Global Eco-village Network is a good resource for learning about and finding a large listing of these sustainable communities across the globe. Another listing/tracking site I came across was Intentional Communities.
No matter the listing, traditionally, the typical motivations behind these shared living communities are social, environmental, and/or spiritual. While there is a more-with-less approach it is kind of Three Musketeers at the end of the day – one for all, all for one. Micro-governance structures are in place with shared decision making the primary means of “law”. Many times there is strong link to permaculture.
Check out some of the specific communities I found (I tried to find ones with decent websites). All are in various stages of formation. This list is in no way exhaustive.
• Abundance Ecovillage, Fairfield, IA
• Nubanusit Neighborhood and Farm, Peterborough, NH
• Sawyer Hill EcoVillage, Berlin, MA
My take-away: The new eco-development proposal for Tiverton is at a scale unlike any of the eco-villages I checked out. Is that to say such scale and size is un-doable, contrary to what a sustainable living infrastructure is supposed to be? I don’t know. It reminds me of driving through Utah and seeing new towns being build literally out of nowhere on huge tracks of land.
But the thought of clearing all that land to develop all this makes me wary. I’m all for doing more with that industrial space off of Eagleville and agree that would be great for our local economy. But adding 480 new homes and trying to figure out how to support all that with an already strapped municipal infrastructure is concerning. And then there is the “gated community” portion of the plan – that just flies in the face of what true cooperative living is all about. And finally, there are other potential placement opportunities for renewable energy structures in town (if the town could just its act in gear and push forward with all that).
So, if clear-cutting and building from scratch is not an attractive way to save suburbia, what is? Stay tuned for Part II…