Local Action: two urban eco-villages springing up inside my home town

This story appeared on the front page of today’s local paper.

FYI: our Green Acres Neighborhood Ecovillage (GANE) website: www.ganecovillage.org. Check it out, and use it to provoke your own thoughts about living in a neighborly way. How about if you and your close-by neighbors started looking at yourself as one node of an ecovillage, talked about the vision and values that you would like to nurture, put up a website calling yourself an “urban retrofit” ecovillage, and go from there! I envisage cities and towns transforming themselves into networks of unique ecovillages over time.

In this age of disconnect and anonymous atomization, the pendulum is swinging back towards local connectivity. And yet, as with all forgotten foundational values, bringing it back creates a lot of resistance, especially when the dreaded “socialist” label is slapped on it.

DOWN TO EARTH
Eco-villages: 2 approaches being tried in Bloomington

By Rod Spaw331-4338 | rspaw@heraldt.com
September 23, 2011, last update: 9/23 @ 12:40 am

Two groups of people on opposite sides of town are taking different routes to a common destination: creating communities of shared values and a collective commitment to sustainable living.

One group will start from scratch on 2.2 acres of an old cattle farm on the west end of town. The other plans to grow organically from within an established neighborhood on the east side. Both embrace the philosophy of “eco-village” — communities where connections between neighbors are intentional and relationships are defined by sharing, cooperation and collaboration.

West side

Danny Weddle walks the sloping ground he and a few others purchased last December on North Spring Street, stretching out his arm to show where houses will sprout from the underbrush and saplings that now dominate the landscape.

He points to areas for gardening, a pond and an orchard, and he talks about community like a 26-year-old guy who says he has a business degree from Indiana University.

“In society, every house has a washing machine, a car, things that take hours to earn money to purchase,” he said. “It’s more affordable to own a car if more people own it. It’s more affordable to fix meals if more people are making them. I’m a person who just likes to have people around. For me, it’s just community. How do you get rid of all those things that eat up your time so that you have more time to be human?”

East side

On the other side of town, Doug Hanvey and Ann Kreilkamp have taken the first steps toward growing their own community of shared connections within the Green Acres neighborhood, which lies north of Third Street between IU and the Ind. 45/46 Bypass.

The two founders expect the Green Acres Neighborhood Ecovillage, now consisting of three homes next to and across the street from one another, to grow as homes become available in the neighborhood and are occupied by those of like minds. They’ve advertised their intentions on Craigslist in an effort to attract potential neighbors.

“Want to build community, live sustainably and above all else, have fun?” the ad begins. “Life in our growing eco-village connects you on a daily basis with others who choose to live lightly on the land while deepening their connections with each other and the natural world.”

Kreilkamp owns property; Hanvey rents; both kinds of resident are welcome in a community they refer to by the acronymn GANE (pronounced gone-ay), which they hope to gradually extend throughout the Green Acres neighborhood and beyond — two or three homes at a time.

Kreilkamp, who has been active with the Green Acres Neighborhood Association, said many of the goals of the eco-village are reflected in the neighborhood’s official plan, which she helped write. It supports sustainability initiatives and a commitment to neighborliness.

She described what was different in an email: “What is new is this idea of little hubs of connectedness, or growing points or whatever you want to call them, of two or three or more houses very near each other connecting in this conscious, intentional manner, and then all the little hubs joining in a network, which then complexifies and enlarges over time, until maybe 10, 20, 30 years from now, the entire (neighborhood), all 440 houses, is inside a transformed field of energy that encourages these kinds of deep connections and feelings of safety for all.”

One for all; all for one

Resource sharing is integral to the eco-villages both groups envision. Ride-sharing, meal-sharing, tool-sharing and labor-sharing come up frequently in conversation. To Kreilkamp, it’s just a better way to connect with the natural world.

“The more exchanges an ecosystem has, the more stable it is and the more it’s able to withstand shocks,” she said.

Kreilkamp already has established a neighborhood garden, and has invited Green Acres residents to share in its tending and its bounty. She and Hanvey also imagine a time in which neighbors want to create common areas by tearing down the fences that physically separate people’s property.

Cost-sharing also is part of the built-from-scratch community that Weddle has represented at several meetings with the city planning commission, which approved plans for the eco-village development last month. The Bloomington City Council is scheduled to consider the project in October.

The group has proposed a maximum of 10 individual “cabins” and a future community home for cooperative living. A land trust will hold the property; cabins will be owned by their residents on land leased from the trust. Weddle said membership fees/dues will cover food, utilities and debt service for the community. Vehicles will be limited to two cars and one truck, whose use all members will share.

Weddle expects to start his own home next spring. It will be of timber frame and straw bale construction, with solar panels providing electricity. He said he expects to do most of the work himself. He’s even milling his own timber at a tree farm his parents own in Lawrence County. Then, he’ll start building homes for others in the community.

“I’ve structured my life so that I can build homes for people, and they can pay me rent until it’s paid off,” he said. “My friends get to be in homes they own at 26, 27, and never have a mortgage.”

Making a plan

Tom Micuda, director of the city planning department, said eco-villages and cooperative housing concepts are not addressed explicitly in one of Bloomington’s primary land-use documents, the Growth Policies Plan, which was adopted nine years ago.

However, he said the plan does encourage housing affordability, urban gardens, neighborhood activity centers and other aspects of a sustainable lifestyle that such communities promote.

“Sustainability was a pretty new concept in 2002, as well, so the plan doesn’t have many aspects that address sustainability,” he said.

He expects that to change as the city embarks on an update of the GPP. A steering committee has been formed to begin the process, which Micuda said could take two years to complete.

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