It’s the right time to bring an urban ecovillage to Akron, Ohio.

Look for these exciting sustainable elements to be included:  (1) Greenbuilding and rehabs, (2) urban farming, (3) Co-op retail businesses, (4) shared transit, and (5) ecoliving events, training and education.

Here are the TOP TEN reasons why the launch of an urban ecovillage in 2013 is sure to rock:

  1. The drive toward sustainable urban development: a greater focus on neighborhood efforts to integrate environmental, economic, and social responses to our current crises.   Urban Current:  A Project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States Urban & Regional Policy Program.
  2. Urban agricultural efforts have made common cause with groups concerned with healthy non-processed food.  The Nation
  3. The sustainability movement will stay on track to become the norm, rather than the exception, with greater efforts in the works to develop greener urban districts and more sustainable, low-tech urban design.  Greenbuilding Services
  4. Collaborative Consumption describes the rapid explosion in traditional sharing, bartering, lending, renting and swapping—including shared landscapes, transportation and meals.–TIME names Collaborative Consumption as one of the “10 Ideas That Will Change The World.” 
  5. With the uptick of sustainable building mandates and consumer demand for  sustainability, funding and incentives for sustainable structures are becoming more readily available.  Greenbuilding Services
  6. We are becoming a nation of overachievers.  Just saving energy is now not enough. The trend is to go all the way and make homes net-zero.  Most net-zero homes achieve this designation by combining a variety of passive and active design strategies.  Buildapedia
  7. Hundreds of “social enterprises” that use profits for environmental, social or community-serving goals are expanding rapidly. New Economics Institute
  8. At the cutting edge of experimentation are the growing number of egalitarian, and often green, worker-owned cooperatives.  New Economics Institute
  9. The number of bike commuters in the USA rose by 64 percent from 1990 to 2009. University Transportation Research Center   
  10. Companies are lining up to register as B Corporations (the “B” stands for “benefit”) allowing companies to subordinate profits to social and environmental goals.  The Nation
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ROI needs  to be found because it’s the key to turning customers on to green.

It doesn’t matter if my clients are steeped in green or stepping into green, the challenge of providing clear and concise Return on Investment (ROI) for their customers seems an exercise in “blood, sweat and tears.”  The green industry does a fine job in spouting the “Save the Planet!” message for customers, which is a good thing, but when it comes to the message of “How Does Green Save Me Money?” — it’s often muddy or missing.

Take home remodeling.  According to the latest Professional Remodeler green research, energy-efficient products continue to grow in popularity while other green improvements are lagging.  In Housingzone.com’s recent special report on green remodeling, 45 percent of remodelers believe that green features help them sell remodeling projects. While up 33 percent from 2007, it remains flat from a year ago.  Take energy retrofits.  For some time, homeowners have been sold on the fact that they are good for the environment and save them money on utility bills; however, a recent article in CNNMoney.com points out that appraisers don’t recognize these features one iota when conducting their home appraisals.

Years back, Cleveland-based Buildings magazine stated that “thanks to programs such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s landmark LEED rating system for buildings, green facilities have crept into the mainstream.” But, the article went on to say that “despite the growing recognition of sustainable practices, green products, and high-performance technologies in building design and construction, concern within the facilities industry continues due to lack of accurate, thorough, and quantifiable information about the financial and economic impacts of high-performance buildings.”

These indicators tell me that this industry, among many others, is not doing its job in conveying the green ROI to its customers.

How can we develop this key green ROI message for customers?  It takes time and an investment.  Be persistent with your suppliers and manufacturers to pull ROI information out of them any way you can.  Set up a monitoring system with your past customers who have invested in your green products to get ROI stats first-hand.  Invest in a third party—university research department, local marketing firm—to assist in getting the information for you.   Comb the Internet for helpful product ROI information such as greenandsave.com and thedailygreen.com.  Develop your own ROI formulas and tables by using compound interest calculators. It can be done.

It’s well worth the time and investment to develop the ROI formula for your customers.  This will put the “green”  in your pocket as well as help save the planet.

I am proud and honored to be promoting the first Ecovillage in Akron, and the second Ecovillage to come to Ohio following the successful run of Cleveland’s Detroit Shoreway Ecovillage. 

Today’s Ecovillages are not the resurrection of the hippie communes of the ’60s and ’70s, rather they are designed for business professionals that believe in their community, care about their local economy and have a burgeoning consciousness about the condition of our planet.  It’s a way of life that turns the past “insular” way of living– inside out!

My goal is to educate, propogate and participate directly in the Ecovillage.  First, let’s get through the Ten Most FAQs about the Ecovillage of the new 2010 decade:

1. What is an Ecovillage?

 Ecovillages are intentionally-designed communities “intended” to be socially, economically and ecologically sustainable.  They can be urban or rural communities that strive to integrate a supportive social environment with a low-impact way of life. They most often adapt the co-housing model with a living arrangement that combines private living quarters with common dining and activity areas in a community whose residents share.

 2. What are the common principles of an Ecovillage?

 There are five:

 1. They are not government-sponsored projects, but grassroots initiatives.

2. Resident members value and practice community living.

3. Resident members are not overly dependent on government, corporate or other centralized sources for water, food, shelter, power and other basic necessities; rather, they attempt to provide these resources themselves.

4. Resident members have a strong sense of shared values, often characterized in spiritual terms.

5. They often serve as research and demonstration sites, offering educational experiences for others.

 3. What is the physical design structure unique to an Ecovillage?

 Ecovillages integrate various aspects of ecological design including ecological building, alternative energy, green manufacturing and production, permaculture and community building practices.

Typically, homes face each other across common courtyards and pedestrian walkways. Parking is kept to the periphery or basements so the automobile doesn’t interfere with social interaction. And a common house and common green are centrally-located.

4. What living space is shared vs. private?

 The common house, though owned by all, is used by the community members as an extension of their living space. It always includes a kitchen and dining room, and meals together with neighbors on a regular basis generally serving as “the glue” that holds the community together. Beyond that there are often shared laundry facilities, children’s playrooms, classrooms, workshops, music and crafts rooms, exercise facilities, a library, etc.

Private space is generally quite private, including kitchens, living rooms and bathrooms that you would expect in a single-family home; and when possible, some private outdoor space as well. There is often intermediate space like porches and entry courts that are semi-private, and gathering “nodes” where a few individuals can meet.

5. How much decision-making power do resident members have in their community?

With the “co-housing” model, community participation is critical in planning, design and ongoing management. This consists primarily of professionally-led design workshops where early members reach consensus on design programs for the site, common areas and private living space, budgets, covenants, bylaws, formal operating agreements and ongoing management and maintenance of both the social and the physical community after establishment.

A final structure is governance for community. All cohousing communities utilize some form of consensus decision making. Most also pay close attention to non-violent conflict resolution. As a practical matter, however, once a degree of trust has been established, committees are often empowered to make decisions in specific areas on behalf of the community so that coming to consensus does not become overly burdensome.

6. Isn’t Ecovillage just a code word for hippie commune?

To many, the blending of community and ecological principles brings to mind the hippie communes of the1960s-70s. These communes were known for their clothing optional policies; opium, marijuana and hemp agricultural crops; and demonstrations of free sexual escapades in common spaces.  The majority of today’s Ecovillages are for mainstream professionals seeking to build community, extend family relationships, provide a supportive social network, be productive and become more environmentally friendly and conscious. 

7. Are Ecovillages becoming a more acceptable living alternative?

Ecovillages emerged out of the intentional communities and cohousing movement originating in Denmark in the 1960s. It then spread to North America during the late 1970s. Modern-day Ecovillages are currently moving out of their embryonic grassroots stage, now recognized as one of the most promising trends in sustainable community living. And as they begin to enter the mainstream and become more accessible, Ecovillages are becoming an ideal more people can share.

According to the nonprofit Global Ecovillage Network, some 420 eco-villages exist in both urban and rural settings around the world today.  Today, an estimated 110 Ecovillages are either being planned or built in the U.S., evenly split between East and West.

 

EcoVillage at Ithaca

Ecovillage at Ithaca

8. Are there any Ecovillages that have proven to be successful? 

There are many successful models in the U.S. that are making money for developers and sponsorship organizations, improving their communities and hosting happy, satisfied residents. 

Examples include the Ecovillage at Ithaca in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York that includes two 30-home neighborhoods, an organic vegetable and berry farm, a nature area and two community houses where residents gather for shared meals. It is in its third phase. The Los Angeles Eco-Village, three miles west of downtown, operates Bicycle Kitchen, a nonprofit group that encourages cycling; gardens and fruit trees; beautification projects that use red-clay brick salvaged from the 1994 earthquake; and other eco-sensitive practices. Dancing Rabbit, set in the hills and prairie of northeastern Missouri, features buildings made of natural materials, 60 acres of woods, organic gardens and a food coop.

9. Is an Ecovillage affordable to the average person?

Cohousing communities in the U.S. have received most of HUD’s innovations in home ownership awards over the last 10 years, plus many other accolades, especially for green features. But the movement has failed so far to cross over into the affordable housing sector in a big way like it has in Europe.

Individual cohousing communities have had some success in attracting subsidies both from within their more affluent memberships and from government and philanthropic organizations to expand affordability of some units to a wider spectrum of incomes.

Most low to moderate-income housing in the U.S. is rental housing supported by low-income tax credit programs. As Ecovillages containing multiple cohousing communities are developed, new stimulus dollars are available to both lower costs and to enhance common features available to everyone, as well as to branch out into community-based mixed-income, mixed-use development.

10. Will Akron have the first Ecovillage in Ohio and when will it be built?

No.  Cleveland’s Detroit Shoreway Ecovillage, two miles west of downtown, is one of the most successful urban models in the U.S. The Cleveland Ecovillage was founded through an innovative partnership involving nonprofit organizations, the city, the regional transit authority, private developers, and neighborhood residents. It is a nationally recognized and celebrated demonstration project that showcases best practices in green building, transit-oriented design, urban agriculture and societal inter-dependence. Over the last ten years the Cleveland Ecovillage has proven that sustainability can be used as an organizing principle for urban redevelopment and community organizing.

Two others are found in the national Ecovillage directory—one in Pomeroy, the other in Cincinnati—but little is known about them. 

 It will be built in central Akron with a Passive House focus within the next two years.

food bank logoThe October meeting of the Greater Summit County Food Policy Coalition (SFPC), Akron’s new food policy council sprouted this year, led by Chris Norman, Director from Crown Point Ecology Center, brought its members to the Akron Canton Regional Food Bank (FB), a state-of-the-art 85,000 square foot warehouse facility on the western edge of downtown Akron.  

As reported by the Greater Akron Partnership for Sustainability: “Food policy councils (FPCs) are made up of a broad based group of dedicated individuals from both the public and the governmental sectors, each of which bring different talents and knowledge to the table. In the United States there are many cities beginning food policy councils, as the topics of healthy food access, school lunches, urban agriculture and farmland preservation continue to pop up in news across the nation.”

 Mark Mitchell, FB manager of marketing and communications, dished out some disheartening stats about the need for FB in the Akron-Canton area in light of the current economic snapshot for NE Ohio:

  • They distributed over 16 million lbs. of food in 2008
  • 25% increase over 2007
  • Projected 17.5 million lbs. of food for 2009
  • 900 volunteers putting in 18,000 hours
  • 23% of children under 5 are food insecure in Ohio, 3rd highest in nation

FoodBanksml[1] SFPC is forging ahead with active committees including:  Micro Enterprises, Health Food Access, Education/Marketing, Community Gardens and Networking. It’s another bright spot for Akron’s growing sustainability efforts.

Monday, June 29

Gardeners gather 'round master gardener Nancy Clem (far right) for helpful advice.

Gardeners gather 'round master gardener Nancy Clem (foreground group right) for helpful advice.

Our assigned night to get green tips from the Ohio State University Master Gardeners (OSUMG).  It was a great excuse to gather the gardeners together.  At my Charles & Turner site, the gardeners came out in droves (a couple dozen) together with the surrounding neighborhood folks. 

Larry Parker, Akron Coop and manager of the Akron Community Garden project, was flipping over the turnout and community interaction. “This is as good as it gets!,” he said. “It’s exactly what community gardening is all about–bringing the community together.”

The Charles & Turner site is taking on a life of its own!  A couple of gardeners worked together to place spigots in selective locations around the garden plots.  This replaced the hassle of dragging around a single hose from one location where the hydrant stands.  The Youngs, whose home sits on the west end of the garden, placed a series of chairs and endtables on the sidewalk for all the weary gardeners to sit, relax and enjoy their gardens between workouts. 

P1010040Akron’s newest immigrant community, the Karens, are active participants at the Charles & Turner site. Master farmers from their homeland of Myanmar (Burma), they are the gardeners to watch. Oscar Baaye, a Karen leader who recently relocated to Akron from Seattle, serves as the official interpreter for the group. Wearing his native garb, he is an upbeat, delightful guy who is working hard to uplift his people settling in Akron.  His involvement with the plight of his Karen people, living most of their lives in refuge camps, victims of the cruel ongoing extremely violent civil strife, has enough compelling content for an epic Hollywood edu-tainment flick.   

Nancy Clem,  a volunteer with OSUMG Summit County, gave me the news I expected about my garden: “Gotta get the weeds out!”  So, between great conversation, I got my hoe in hand and started hacking.  Then Nancy told me how to lay down nothing but newspapers on the soil between plants acting as one of the best weed inhibitors. 

Oscar Baaye (left) relaxes on the sidewalk chairs with the Young family

Oscar Baaye (left) relaxes on the sidewalk chairs with the Young family

I am now finding myself heading over to the community garden as many evenings as possible, not just to tend my garden, but to meet up and chat the night away on the Young’s sidewalk chairs with my newfound friends–gardeners and neighbors alike–on these balmy Akron summer nights until the fireflies start flittin’ about.

thumb plantOur mission is to educate, inspire and involve the average consumer in the green sustainability movement. Through our programs and services, everyone, regardless of age, race, religion, income or any other demographic factor can participate in the sustainability movement to enrich their lives including saving money, improving health, protecting the planet and building community

What makes this sustainability project different? Each practice, product and service is available and affordable to the average household in the urban corridor. In some instances, an initial outlay of cash may be necessary with the understanding that ROI must come to full fruition within a year’s time. If it’s not affordable, practical, or easy-to-apply, we’ll see to it that it gets the Green Thumbs Down.

Selecting seed packets for the community garden

Selecting seed packets for the community garden

The City of Akron together with the Akron Cooperative and Ohio State University Extension is breaking ground to offer community garden plots for its residents.

Eight city-owned lots scattered about town are being tilled, furrowed and sown to move closer to a vision of one day sustaining a third of the dietary needs of its citizens.

The Summer of ’09 is the revival of a program now taking on the challenge of getting enough participants at each site to ante up $20-30. Larry Parker, director of Akron Cooperative says, “That initial investment will be repaid to urban gardeners many times over. Keep in mind that for $20 or $30 you can produce a couple hundred dollars worth of fresh veggies.”

So far, plenty of gardening go-getters have formally registered to get their fingernails dirty working those spades and hoes to reap a bounty of homegrown veggies and/or colorful sprays of flowers.

At the 11th hour, I stepped up as a participant, running my app. over to the city planning office. Kurt Mulhauser, urban planner and the city’s head hoe-downer, tipped me off that an orientation was taking place that very evening at the Highland Square Library.

Listening to the enthusiastic and encouraging words from Kurt, Larry and Denise Ellsworth, OSU Extension master gardener, and grabbing a handful of seed packets and a $15 live plants/seed packets voucher from the City of Akron to Donzell’s, Graf Growers or Pettiti garden centers, and later, starter plants donated from Crown Pointe Ecology Center in Bath (I already got my initial investment back!), I can’t wait to dig in!

Can a greenhorned gardener like me pull up at least one radish by harvest time? What kind of “garden-variety” angels will be stepping forward inside and outside of the community garden neighborhoods to aid the cause?

Get all the latest digs right here on the community gardens adventure as the project continues to grow!