Sonoma Mountain Village "eco-town"
- A Washington Post article about a planned environmentally friendly
greenfield town in California. Car-lite, of cours -- not car-free --
since the idea that cars are the normal and default way of getting
around in urban areas still prevails...
In California, Building a Town With a Gentle Footprint
By Katherine Salant
Saturday, May 3, 2008; Page F04
Can a new house reduce your ecological footprint?
An ecological footprint is a way of quantifying human impact on the
earth. The originator of the concept, environmentalist Mathis
Wackernagel, sees it as a way to help average people wrap their brains
around an overwhelming amount of data.
Wackernagel converted all the earth's resources into a single unit of
measurement, productive hectares of land. He terms that a global
hectare. Then he calculated each person's share. That's the ecological
footprint. With 6.6 billion people on the planet, the average stands
at 1.8 global hectares per person. (1.8 global hectares equals 2.2
The size of an average American's ecological footprint, however, has
ballooned to 9.6 global hectares. If everyone on earth lived like we
do, we would need five planets, clearly an unsustainable proposition.
Scaling down to a "one-planet lifestyle" would require many changes.
When it comes to housing, size might seem to be the main issue.
However, it's not as big a factor as you might think. Where you live
and the type of transportation you use are just as important. If you
have to drive to every activity outside your house, transportation
takes up a significant share of your ecological footprint.
Of the choices available to new-home buyers, one of the smallest
footprints could belong to a house in a New Urbanist community -- that
is, one that follows the planning philosophy that models new suburban
developments on older, walkable city neighborhoods. With its mixed-use
land planning, shopping areas are within walking distance of most
houses, so residents can use their cars less. When such a development
adjoins public transportation, many two-car households get rid of one
To achieve true one-planet living, however, requires more. Fossil
fuels would not be used, so the energy for heating, air conditioning
and electricity would be produced by on-site renewable sources. To
conserve local water sources, rainwater would be stored, treated and
recycled. To the extent possible, building materials would be locally
manufactured with recycled content.
Achieving all this community-wide would be considered impossible by
most land developers and home builders. But it has been done in
England by the BioRegional Development Group, which is now working
with a U.S. developer.
That developer, Codding Enterprises, based in Rohnert Park north of
San Francisco, is in the final planning stages of what promises to be
America's first one-planet-living community, Sonoma Mountain Village.
Construction is expected to begin next year and end in 2021. The
eventual population is projected at about 5,000.
From a distance, Sonoma Mountain Village will appear to be a typical
New Urbanist town, but close up, a visitor will see significant
differences, said Geof Syphers, Codding's chief sustainability officer.
At 35 units to the acre, the housing density will be comparable to
that in older neighborhoods such as Georgetown. Fifty stores and small
businesses will line 10 blocks in the town-square area.
To attract an economically diverse population, more than half of the
1,900 housing units will be multifamily condominiums, senior housing,
rental apartments and affordable housing. The 900 single-family houses
will range from 500-square-foot cottages to conventional 3,000-square-
foot, four-bedroom models. The average will be 1,400 square feet.
The one-planet aspects of Sonoma Mountain Village will be less
obvious. Heat, hot water and electricity will be produced on site with
renewable sources. Roof-mounted solar collectors will provide hot
water. Passive solar design features that tap the warmth of the sun
will produce most household heat; the cloudy weather backup heating
will be provided by a community-wide grid of geothermal heat pumps
that capture the warmth of the earth. Electricity will come from solar
photovoltaic panels, which will be arrayed on the roofs of all the
commercial and some residential buildings. The combined output of that
system will be shared among the households and businesses.
Cisterns throughout the project will collect and treat rain to be used
for irrigating the landscape during the nine-month dry season.
To give the local economy a boost and reduce the environmental impact
of shipping materials across the country, some major construction
components, including cabinetry and framing, will be produced by local
firms. Codding is also using recycled and reused materials to an
The firm opted for steel framing instead of wood because there is less
waste, and the framing will be made from recycled automobile parts.
Every front door will be made of reclaimed wood salvaged from local
rivers and lakes by a firm that also makes the doors. The flooring for
the front porches will be recycled, lightweight, fly-ash concrete.
Unlike conventional concrete that is made with energy-intensive
Portland cement, fly-ash concrete is made with the waste that
accumulates at coal-powered electric plants.
For many people, though, the most interesting aspect of this project
could be the social engineering. The company said it wants to create a
sense of community and a consensus for living within a smaller
To do that, it needs to foster casual socializing. Each neighborhood
will have a New Urbanist treatment: narrow streets lined with wide
sidewalks and porches. In many cases, kitchens will overlook the
street so that a resident working at the sink can wave to passersby or
chat when windows are open. Each neighborhood will have a pocket park
with public art.
To reduce car use, the town center will offer essential services as
well as entertainment venues, a movie theater, restaurants, a bakery
and a daily farmers market. For commuting, residents can choose
carpools, buses or a shuttle service to the local train station. For
those willing to eschew a car altogether, the developer will organize
a car-share club that lets members rent hybrid or electric cars by the
For more information on the ecological footprint, see http://www.footprintnetwork.org
. For more information on Sonoma Mountain Village, seehttp://www.sonomamountainvillage.com
Katherine Salant can be contacted via her Web site, http://www.katherinesalant.com
© 2008 Katherine Salant
Montreal QC Canada
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