What is it like to live within the means of one planet? In the U.S., where the average person’s lifestyle demands five times as much biocapacity as Global Footprint Network estimates is renewably available per person, a one-planet Footprint may seem inadequate to meeting the basic demands of modern society.
Not so if you ask Geof Syphers, Chief Sustainability Officer for Sonoma Mountain Village, a community being built in California Wine Country. The first development in North America and fourth in the world to be named as a one-planet living community by Global Footprint Network partner BioRegional, Sonoma Mountain Village is projected to be a place where the majority of residents maintain an Ecological Footprint of less than 1.8 global hectares, which, according to Global Footprint Network calculations, meets the minimum criteria for sustainability.
According to Syphers and his team, a 1.8-global-hectare lifestyle looks something like this: Communities with wide sidewalks, bike paths, and quiet, traffic-free residential streets. Daily farmers markets offering produce from the immediately surrounding community. People working in the community where they live, walking to offices, grocery stores, schools, and day-care. Energy-efficient homes powered by solar, with gray water recycling, rainwater catchment and backyard compost bins, with no residence more than a two minute walk from a park and a community garden.
“Most people think sustainable living is, to a certain extent, deprivation. Well, it does involve a simpler, lower-consumption lifestyle," Syphers says. “People come here and they see packs of 20 kids playing outside. They see people hanging out in their front yards, chatting. They see fruit trees blooming everywhere.” Then they say, ‘I would love to have this!’ It’s the same thing they were calling deprivation 20 minutes ago!”
To be endorsed as a one-planet living community, the developer, Codding Enterprises, went through a rigorous, 8-month screening process. Codding had to not only demonstrate that its building plans adhered to the strictest standards of resource-efficiency and low-impact construction, but also that it could build a community in which the majority of residents’ personal choices – on everything from food to transportation to travel – would keep them within a one-planet Footprint.
“Our goal is to make it easy to make these choices,” Syphers said. “We’ve found if walking to work is possible, you will probably do it when the weather is nice. If you can drop your kid off at day care on the way, and if you can get information on sustainable living while you’re there, it becomes even easier.” The community includes clean-energy shuttles that take people to public transit hubs, widely connecting bike paths (including some that go right through the center of buildings), natural habitat woven into the urban fabric through features like rooftop gardens, and shaded sidewalks with interesting sightlines.
Sonoma Mountain Village is expected to complete its first neighborhood of about 500 homes next year. Ultimately the plans call for a community of upwards of 5,000 people.
But Syphers's ambitions lie far beyond the verdant hills of Sonoma County. Sonoma Mountain Village is envisioned as a model for sustainable living that can be reproduced everywhere. Ultimately, the goal is to show American residents and policy-makers that living with a one-planet Footprint is not just possible. It’s desirable.
Post Comments • Read Comments (4)
Posted by natalie on 12/08/2008 at 02:10 AM
(chico , ca)
The problem lays in the fact that we are already living beyond our means. Whether we continue to reproduce at large numbers or not we continue to use the worlds resources. Surely making small changes in your lifestyle day to day would still make more sense then crushing someone’s dream of a larger family.
Posted by Jenny on 09/23/2008 at 12:43 AM
Surely the whole problem can just be solved by stopping selfish people having so many children? If every couple was restricted to just having one child then within a very short period of time the earth would be back to a sustainable population. We just cannot keep growing at the rate we are.
Posted by Kai on 09/18/2008 at 09:49 PM
(St. Louis, MO)
It sounds very interesting. But, how much will it cost to live in this new community?
Posted by ken wade on 09/17/2008 at 02:32 AM
(NYC, NY USA)
I like the community and want to know more about it and others. I strive to live to this plan in NYC and it is not all that difficult. Putting aside the dangers of bike riding on streets with aggressive cabs, vans and your regular old angry vehiclist, NYC is a bike riders paradise. Flat and smooth blacktops all over the place. I have also advocated placing hand laundry facilities on the roof tops, which is usually meat with scorn by the building management. (I have never used a drier.) I would like to know more about organizing in urban areas to lighten the American foot print.