Partnerships spearhead ‘eco-village’ plansIn early 2009, the local affiliate of Habitat For Humanity announced plans for the development of an “eco-village,” in its attempt to provide a self-sustained, energy efficient and environmentally friendly neighborhood of homes for area low-income families.
By: Vera Roy-Stoeberl, Hudson Star-Observer
In early 2009, the local affiliate of Habitat For Humanity announced plans for the development of an “eco-village,” in its attempt to provide a self-sustained, energy efficient and environmentally friendly neighborhood of homes for area low-income families.
Today, plans are still being formulated to build this first-of-its-kind neighborhood in River Falls on the southern portion of Apollo Road, just off Maple Street.
Major components of the eco-village housing concept are gathering to construct the 20- to 25-home development, according to Jim Farr, recently hired executive director of St. Croix Valley Habitat For Humanity. He’s pleased with the progress and distinctive nature of the project.
“The most unique aspect of this project is the strong alignment and commitment of the core partners — St. Croix Valley Habitat For Humanity, the city of River Falls, the UW-River Falls/St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development, and the design team at Frisbie Architects — toward the key objectives,” says Farr.
“One of the outcomes of (those core partners) was the donation of the five-acre parcel of land from the city of River Falls to SCVHFH,” he began. “This provided the opportunity to vision the village concept.
“We feel that this now provides a larger scale vehicle/venue to clearly demonstrate, showcase and educate Habitat’s mission of providing responsible and affordable homes to the populations we serve while bringing focused attention to the urgent need for all of us to become more responsible to the significant environmental issues facing our planet.”
Say the word “village,” and a traditional image most likely springs to mind, like the one defined in Webster’s dictionary. A village is “a settlement usually larger than a hamlet and smaller than a town; an incorporated minor municipality…”
Combine village with the prefix “eco,” meaning habitat or environment, and one may think of the kind or type of worldly surroundings that envelop and affect many aspects of a minor municipality.
UW-River Falls Professor and Director of the university’s St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development Kelly Cain has a contemporary definition of an eco-village.
“The Habitat eco-village is a microcosm of community, a miniature of sustainable community design,” Cain said. “In other words, it is a neighborhood design intentionally meant to not only demonstrate and provide optimum environmental performance, but positive economic performance, and positive social dynamics.
“It is a design that provides a compact and highly efficient and effective means for making each individual family, and the neighborhood as a whole, as self-sufficient as it can be, and thus economically independent.
“That is what we are after.”
Farr says the design of the eco-village will consider the entire use of the five-acre site.
“We see this as not just another land speculation sub-division type project,” he noted.
Cain says, “It is a design that is all about reinforcing traditional American values of self-sufficiency, self-reliance, responsibility for self and community, innovation and entrepreneurship.
“If we do this right, we can provide state-of-the-art design for all energy and material systems, and do so in a cost effective way, if not a cost negative way over the long haul.
“For example, with the average Habitat family paying $200-$250 per month in heating and electricity bills, what happens to their economic security if we can help them buy a house that is basically net zero on monthly energy costs, if not even producing more energy than they consume electrically?
“We then have families buying homes that have energy systems that are assets rather than liabilities. Not only is the family strengthened by such, but so is the community as a whole from that kind of alternative social security.
“The same goes for building in space for food production, rain water harvesting to off-set some of the municipal water use and minimize run-off, and easy pedestrian and/or bicycle connection to local facilities and public services.”
As green building practices and energy efficiency have evolved into the housing and construction industry, so has SCVHFH accepted and incorporated as much of those concepts as possible, says Farr.
“St. Croix Valley Habitat (has) been integrating sustainable, green building practices, (such as) energy efficiency design, construction, building waste disposal practices, energy efficient appliances, etc., into our operations over time in recognition of the need to protect the environment and as an extension of our responsibility as a leader in the building industry to provide good stewardship over our planetary resources,” said Farr.
Cain summed up the project saying, “We are returning traditional neighborhood design with a 21st century flair that recognizes the challenges we face as a nation.”
At present there is no design sketch or conceptual plan of the eco-village available. But as soon as a design is approved, Farr says he wants to use it to further educate the community about the project.
No home-owner applications are being accepted at this time either, said Farr.
“We are in the very early planning stages, and as such, many actual community models are yet under consideration…Timelines are not yet firmly established. It is premature to engage our potential homeowners.”
But there are basic guidelines that possible applicants may consider.
Farr hopes the project will come to life with a ground breaking during the summer of 2011. That’s his target date, and it’s not a definitive date. Financial considerations will dictate the length of time it will take to complete the eco-village.
“We are exploring many build-staging options that will fit with the financing capabilities,” Farr said. “Most likely we will build the project out over a 4- to 5-year period.”
The director is confident that his smaller-sized local chapter is capable of handling the seemingly large undertaking.
Farr said, “As with any project that is a first of its kind and of this scope, there are and will be many challenges and bumps in the road. However, we have very solid organizations at the core with many committed and talented people that want to make this happen.
Farr’s commitment is to provide this eco-village as a model to others.
“It’s an aggressive concept and will demonstrate what can be done and what should be done to provide affordable, sustainable housing. It’s our opportunity and our responsibility,” he said.
“I am grateful to be part of a project that is attempting to provide sustainable — socially, environmentally and financially — homes to those in need in the St. Croix valley.”
Persons interested in learning more can go to www.scvhabitat.org or call Farr at (715) 425-5623.