Ithaca residents try to live greener lifestyles
Two miles away from the bustle of downtown Ithaca, perched atop a hill is EcoVillage Ithaca, three cohousing projects populated by middle class residents striving to live a greener life.
The Global EcoVillage Network, an international network of sustainable communities, defines ecovillages as “an intentional or traditional community using local participatory processes to holistically integrate ecological, economic, social and cultural dimensions of sustainability in order to regenerate social and natural environments.”
EVI is a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable learning through their Learn@EcoVillage program. The village is funded through grants, donations and the profits from village tours. EVI was originally founded in 1991 and was one of the first eco villages in the United States.
Liz Walker, executive director and founder of EVI, described the village as a dynamic and bustling community, with residents constantly organizing different workshops, including yoga, pottery and martial arts for others to participate in. Habitants of EVI have community meals together a few times a week, where everyone pitches in for the cooking or meal clean up, which promotes the values of sharing within the community.
“People come because they want to live in a setting where their kids can play safely and where they can feel that sense of belonging and community spirit,” Walker said. “People come here because they really want to take part in changing the world and … be part of something bigger.”
Jim Bosjolie, EVI tour guide, was quick to point out EVI is “not a commune” and emphasized that a majority of the residents work in the area.
Bosjolie is right; children run about the village giggling and playing, a scene that could be found in most family-friendly housing complexes. If visitors didn’t notice the solar panels or the large composting and recycling bins, the village would appear ordinary.
EVI resident Graham Ottoson said she moved to EVI from her home in Ithaca 11 years ago to expose her son to different ways of thinking about the world.
“I like the people here,” she said. “I like their brave new ideas. The EcoVillage is full of forward thinking people … looking for new and different ways to do things.”
Walker said the community’s goal is to live more sustainably and to share that belief with others.
“Typically our mission is to create a kind of community that people can learn from,” Walker said. “Hopefully [that] will inspire others to get more involved in seeking out alternatives to the mainstream.”
The 200 EVI residents currently own two 30-home cohousing neighborhoods, and every resident owns a share in the property’s 175 acres. Walker said a third housing development, a 40-house project is expected to be finished in the spring of 2015 at which point EVI will have 100 homes and roughly 230 residents. The EVI residents only live on 20 percent of the land allowing the remaining 80 percent to be utilized for conservational efforts.
Each housing development was designed with a different identity in mind. The first development, FROG, was built in 1997 and has a cookie-cutter layout. All of the houses were identically built, but the residents’ varying decorative and gardening tastes bring a whole new level of charisma to the development. Bosjolie said it was designed to be similar to a 15th century village with the houses clustered close together and narrow walkways.
SONG was completed in 2006 and each resident designed his or her home. The houses there are more eclectic, reflecting the individual tastes in the village. All of the SONG buildings are larger than the FROG buildings. The TREE development is still under construction, but once again the development has a distinct appearance in that all of the houses are blue and they are larger than the FROG and SONG homes, and placed closer together than the SONG units.
Living within EVI isn’t just about recycling, the residencies have a passive solar design to conserve heat in the winters through extra insulation and window placement. Passive solar design is a sustainable building strategy that captures the sun’s energy to naturally warm a building. Residents also utilize solar panels to generate more than half of the community’s electricity needs, Walker said.
The sustainability measures are not limited to their energy usage as the community cultivates a “culture of extensive sharing” through carpools, video and book libraries, and the internal recycling of toys, furniture, electronics and clothes, Bosjolie said.
EVI isn’t just about reusing and repurposing items for the sake of sustainability, the recycling of household goods is also rooted in the ideals of sharing. If a resident needs to borrow a footstool or a cup of flour all they have do is shoot out an email via the EVI list serve and soon enough the resident will have someone knocking on their door with that footstool in hand, Bosjolie said.
Through these green efforts, EVI has been able to shrink their ecological footprint. EVI residents’ ecological footprint is 70 percent smaller than the ecological footprint of the average American, Jesse Sherry, assistant professor of environmental studies at Eckerd College, said. Sherry spent two years researching EVI and two other ecovillages to understand their sustainable achievements.
“There’s definitely a stronger sense of community than a suburban neighborhood … the people are warm and welcoming,” Sherry said.
EVI prides itself on the role it played in launching various sustainable programs within the Ithaca area. The EcoVillage is credited with assisting in the implementation of the Ithaca CarShare, New Roots Charter High School, Sustainable Tompkins County, the Gaia Education Network International and the Ithaca College Sustainability Partnership. Currently EVI is focused on the Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming project, which teaches people about the benefits of growing their own food in addition to planting.
“We’re learning as we go and we’re trying to share that learning with others,” Walker said.
TinaMarie Craven is a senior journalism and politics, international studies major who wants to live in a TREE when she grows up. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.