|Ecovillages as a solution to urban growth problems||<– Date –> <– Thread –>|
|From: Kevin Wolf (kjwolfdcn.davis.ca.us)|
|Date: Sun, 10 May 1998 16:00:36 -0500|
NOTE: This originally appeared as an opinion piece in the Davis Enterprise on May 3, 1998. This version is adapted for a broader audience, but I left in many of the Davis specific examples. Unfortunately the names of the land speculators pushing suburban sprawl may be unique to Davis, but almost every town and city is facing a similar story. Ecovillages could be great ways to expand cohousing. Comments on this article and concept are welcome. KW Eco-villages as a Solution to Urban Growth Problems Published in the Davis Enterprise May 3, 1998 By Kevin Wolf, kjwolf [at] dcn.davis.ca.us Most of the land surrounding Davis and other Central Valley towns has been optioned or purchased by speculators hoping to convince the city or county to allow them to build a new subdivision on what is presently farmland or wildlife habitat. Given the history of land development, their bet will likely pay off. Locally these deep-pocket developers include the Ramos Oil Company family and PG&E Properties. They have tremendous influence in the state legislature and with local elected officials because they invest heavily in professional lobbying and campaign donations. Today's campaign rules favor the rich and business, because they wrote the rules. Davis will be highly vulnerable to the power of the land speculators when we attempt to craft the 2010 General Plan, and possibly much sooner. Think about it. Projections show that the front-loading of home building in the 1987 General Plan developments leaves the City with five years of virtually no-growth from 2006-2010. Home prices and rents will likely skyrocket to San Francisco and Berkeley levels. The political dynamics will pit renters and developers against land owners seeking higher property values and no-growth, save-the-farmland activists. As new housing stock declines, demand for both starter homes and move-up housing will mount. A rigid no-growth policy in Davis will displace some of this demand to new suburbs built on prime ag land around neighboring towns, which will effectively deprive the save-the-farmland argument of its moral power. The remaining local demand will then coalesce into a powerful force for explosive growth in Davis. Adding to this will likely be the state of California continuing to "force" us to accept "a share of regional growth" in our next General Plan. The last time it was 1.8%. Next time it could easily be higher. At any time, the city council could pass another version of the 1987 General Plan that brought us to the mess we are in today. What should we do - Just say No, ignore it, try to solve it later or what? One real solution is to change the rules of the election game so that campaign contributions no longer play as important a role in who writes state and local laws and rules governing growth. Another is to slow or direct growth in the entire region or significantly increase densification in our existing footprint. A new idea being tried around the country is the eco-village model of farmland and wildlife habitat protection. We should explore the idea of locking up as much land around Davis as possible in ag land trusts crafted around various versions of the eco-village model. By doing this before the 2010 General Plan process begins, we can avoid the worst of the land price increases that would otherwise occur as development interests take advantage of the next round of growth. If we pro-actively plan a decade in advance, we can ensure that future growth is done in an environmentally sound manner. If we wait, we will more than likely lose again to the powerful forces of the walled suburbs. If we do it right, we might be able to score 320-640 acres in permanent land trust for each 15-20 acre eco-village. (In Ithaca, 4-5 neighborhoods of 25-30 homes will be built at a density of 10 units per acre. Their 12-15 acre village will save 150+ acres from its previous zoning of a one acre lot suburb.) To quote from EcoVillage at Ithaca (www.cfe.cornell.edu/ecovillage/), "The basic idea is to create a pedestrian village which maintains open space and agricultural land within the urban area, by densely clustering housing in appropriate-sized neighborhoods." The village's neighborhoods can be a co-op like Dos Pinos Mutual Housing Cooperative, a cohousing community like Muir Commons, or a condominium/townhouse complex, even a neighborhood like Village Homes. t can be a mixture of rentals and owner occupied properties. In all cases, the surrounding land would be donated to a land trust which can never develop it. I hope the first village we develop follows Ithica's example, which uses the Danish Cohousing model as a taking-off point. "In cohousing, households cooperate to design, build and manage their neighborhood. Key aspects of cohousing are a Common House where meals can be shared, and pedestrian-oriented commons areas." In addition, each neighborhood in the village could have its own bylaws, shared laundry, tools, play structures and more. The communities can be designed by their occupants as was Muir Commons Cohousing, or by architects and developers. In the middle of the 4-5 neighborhoods lies the village center. Likely it will have child care facilities, a telecommunication center, and a small office complex. Different residents might run a small café, copy center, store and more. There could be space for storage and recycling, a baseball/soccer field, basketball courts, even a pool as in Village Homes.. Where no single neighborhood could afford this, a village could. To help ease transportation problems, the village could be required to establish a car and van co-op to assist in commuting kids, students and adults. Throughout Europe, car co-ops are underway in different communities and towns. Ideally the protected farm and wildlife land would be farmed and managed by people who lived in the village. Most likely the farm would be organic in order to minimize pesticide drift, a great improvement over what occurs on the farm-urban interface of most towns like Davis. If each village sat on 640 acres, one square mile of land, the first ring around Davis would accommodate at least 10 villages, the next ring slightly more. Done as an integrated plan, these villages could help restore and tie together wildlife habitat areas and connecting corridors, and create great places to live. By pursuing a 50-100 year plan with a slow (1% or so) growth rate, the city could annex a five mile or larger ring around the city, and tremendously lower the price of the land optioned by the speculators facing no hope that they can make the wild profits they were expecting. A five mile ring would allow for the comprehensive planning for habitat corridors, transportation routes and more and provide the city with the framework for a long term vision for what its future will look like, instead of having to react to the pressures of those who have bet on their land becoming the next suburb. Unfortunately, Davis' accelerated growth has allowed the sound-bite argument of "just say no to growth" to make sense. This logic not only shuts out planning that could lead to eco-villages, it sets us up to lose again in the 2010 General Plan. Now is the time to envision and debate our future for 2010 and beyond. We cannot afford to stick our heads in the sand. We must plan wisely and realistically if we are to avoid repeating the growth patterns of the last ten years. Kevin Wolf lives in the N Street Cohousing Community, the oldest cohousing community in the country and a model for retrofit cohousing. He works as a facilitation and environmental consultant who believes in long-term thinking, and local political action.
Ecovillages as a solution to urban growth problems Kevin Wolf, May 10 1998
- Re: Ecovillages as a solution to urban growth problems Fred H. Olson, May 16 1998
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