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Sonoma Mountain Village "eco-town"

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  • Christopher Miller
    A Washington Post article about a planned environmentally friendly greenfield town in California. Car-lite, of cours -- not car-free -- since the idea that
    Message 1 of 1 , May 16, 2008
      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
      impressive degree.

      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
      ecological footprint.

      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


      Christopher Miller
      Montreal QC Canada

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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