In planning more sustainable communities, we can travel the world to look for exemplars.
When Canadian journalist Chris Turner set out on a journey around the world last year, he wanted to see what people were doing to save the planet. He visited communities on each of the settled continents, looking for examples of ecologically-friendly living. He put his finding together in a book, The Geography of Hope. [….]
In the middle of Denmark is the island of Samsø. About a decade ago, the island won a competition being run by the Danish government. They agreed to find ways to make the whole community carbon neutral by 2007. The island encouraged local and foreign investment and built a series of wind turbines both on, and off, the island. Now, the island doesn’t just produce its own electricity, but is a net exporter of power. At the same time, the island installed a series of district heating plants. Basically, instead of heating houses individually, these district heating plants provide central heating for all the houses in the neighbourhood, dramatically cutting down on energy waste. [….]
The EcoVillage at Ithaca, New York
Just outside the city of Ithaca, in upstate New York, there’s a small community of about one hundred people. They share some common meals, participate in running two organic farms, and live as low a carbon lifestyle as possible. It’s called an EcoVillage, and it’s a model of an “intentional community.” In intentional communities, all the residents agree to certain principles; in this case, it’s a commitment to carbon neutrality. Everyone pitches in to run the community, but it’s not a low-tech affair. They are all allowed one car per family, and high-speed internet is the norm. [….]
Chris Turner was also impressed by the commitment of Freiburg, and other cities in Germany, to reducing fossil fuel use. There’s an area of redevelopment in Freiburg where the houses are so energy efficient that they actually produce power that can feed back into the grid. And importantly, the residents of these houses don’t find themselves living frugally to achieve this. High quality insulation, solar panels on the roofs and other technological innovations have meant the houses can meet all the owners’ needs and more.