Growing Deep Green, Affordable Neighborhoods

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Tompkins Weekly – March 21, 2011. By Liz Walker.

Are you trying to embrace a greener lifestyle? Are you eager to have your kids spend less time in front of the TV and more time playing outside with friends? Would you love to know your neighbors well enough to share some meals and help each other out? Do you long to make a positive difference in the world?  If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’re in good company. Duane Elgin, a well-known futurist and author, says that based on decades of research he has found that “roughly 20 percent of the US adult population…are consciously crafting Earth friendly or green ways of living. These lifeway pioneers are providing the critical mass of invention at the grassroots level that could enable the larger society to swiftly develop alternative ways and approaches to living.”

Here in Tompkins County we are fortunate to have dozens of projects that address conscious choices for greater equity, social and ecological sustainability. While some focus on food, green building, local economy, or creating community, there are a few that tie all these issues together, creating an integrated approach.

For people who want to live out their values in a supportive, community setting, there are two exciting new neighborhood-scale developments that plan to break ground this year, and both are looking for more members. One is on the outskirts of Ithaca, the other is in Fall Creek.

TREE, the third neighborhood at EcoVillage at Ithaca, ( is a new cohousing project which will be part of the larger environmentally-oriented EcoVillage community on the crest of West Hill. Surrounded by 176 acres of rolling meadows, organic farms, and woodlands, and nestled close to the existing village, it will feature cutting edge green design, with most homes built to the stringent Passive House standards that originated in Europe. To date there are only 13 of these homes in the U.S. that are certified by the U.S.Passive House Institute, yet there are 25,000 built in Europe. We want to popularize this proven energy efficient model, and once built, TREE may be the first and largest showcase for this type of deep green design in the U.S.

TREE is also pushing the envelope by planning apartments in its “Common House” or community center. The apartments are an affordable way to build, while creating a wonderful social environment with ready access to common amenities such as a community kitchen and dining room, children’s play-space, community gardens and a terrace overlooking a pond. Already two thirds of the future residents have committed to the project, coming from as far away as Texas and as close as downtown Ithaca. TREE is especially interested in providing homes for young families, couples and singles, from a diverse range of races and incomes. For more information, email

A sister project, New Earth Living,( ) is planning a small urban ecovillage for downtown Ithaca. NEL President Susan Cosentini said, “We’re intending to bring together the best practices of sustainability, co-housing, and in-fill development to create a living environment that preserves land and natural spaces, conserves resources and fulfills a social need to be connected and supported. We’re aiming for ultra-efficient buildings that can be replicated.”

Liz Walker is co-founder of EcoVillage at Ithaca and serves as Executive Director of the EVI-Center for Sustainability Education. She has authored two books: “EcoVillage at Ithaca: Pioneering a Sustainable Culture,” and “Choosing a Sustainable Future: Ideas and Inspiration from Ithaca, NY.”

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