Conscious Community by Design

Grow Community on Bainbridge Island, Washington, was developed with the goal of being the first residential community in North America endorsed by the One Planet Living initiative. Grow, which is the largest solar community in Washington State, focuses on promoting health, happiness, and community through a mix of highly energy efficient single-family homes and multi-family rentals in a community setting complete with community gardens, car and bike sharing, edible landscaping, and proximity to a major metropolitan area. It’s an inspiring model of community development and one that we hope will begin to scale throughout the rest of the country.

We sat down with Grow Community’s Project Manager and Sustainability Expert to learn more.

How did the idea for Grow Community emerge?

Greg Lotakis: The former President of Asani Developments, Marja Preston, knew that a property held by a group of investors was a wonderful location for a walkable community close to Winslow [the main town on Bainbridge Island] and the Bainbridge-to-Seattle ferry terminal. She sat down with friends and asked the question, “If you could design the perfect neighborhood for your family, what would it look like and what would you do?” With that question in mind, we discovered and used the One Planet Living principles to guide the development toward deep sustainability.

As our community discussions evolved, we began working to create a new neighborhood that was also intergenerational, with homes that we hoped would work for residents at different times in their lives. It helped us imagine a place that could be enjoyed as a grandchild, as a grandparent, and at every age in between.

What are some of the innovative aspects of the community?

GL: We have a lot happening in one development. At the same time, we like to say that we took many existing ideas and mashed them up in one place. To be more specific, we wanted people to check the sustainability box without too much effort and focus on other important things in their lives.

The most innovative aspects of the community include:

HEALTH AND EFFICIENCY

When residents purchase a home at Grow Community, they know it has been designed and built to be as healthy and energy efficient as we can make it. We have seen a 50% or more reduction in energy use in our homes as compared to the average Bainbridge Island home.

RENEWABLE ENERGY

In our first phase, we were able to create a team that included a local solar financier, a local solar products manufacturer, and a local solar installer to provide a simple solar package for each homeowner. With local incentives, each homeowner has been able to take advantage of this opportunity and pursue their own energy generation. Now the solar program is being spread into Washington State through our partner, Simple Solar, and Grow Community, which is the largest solar community in Washington State, is the example of how well it has worked. Grow residents are near or at net-zero energy consumption compared to production in a calendar year!

TRANSPORTATION

Knowing that personal transportation has a large carbon impact, we work to support the community to reduce this impact through bike storage, bike sharing, and creative thinking around community car sharing so our residents can reduce their vehicle ownership to one vehicle per home.

FOOD

Community garden spaces are located in several areas to draw people outside and create a connection between homes. Edible landscaping is found everywhere - it’s not just about food in the garden, but having it all around us so we’re reminded that abundance can be provided in many ways.

I see that you are the first One Planet Living Community to build residential homes in North America. Can you tell us more about this?

GL: Each home at Grow meets the Built Green 5 standard, which is a local green building certification. While we appreciate how various green building certification programs have furthered efforts to make green building more common, most remain focused on buildings and sites. Our decision to use One Planet as a framework was made because of its focus on ways to build community. It felt more holistic.

One important aspect of using these principles was the community process that we followed to allow for an integrated voice in our early design phases, as well as having members of the community co-author our Sustainability Action Plan. One of the principles we really try to embrace is Health and Happiness. We see this at the center of every principle of an interconnected system.

What aspect of this community are you most proud of?

GL: Ultimately, all the “cool” around sustainability means nothing without community. Really, Grow Community Bainbridge is about creating opportunities for residents to support each other in the pursuit of One Planet Living. Being able to walk across your path and connect with your neighbor over a glass of wine, share time in the garden with your grandchild, or watch kids and dogs play in the open space at the end of a day makes Grow special. It all comes back to health and happiness.

Do you feel this idea can scale and be brought to other communities in the US?

GL: We truly hope so. There are so many great builders and innovators in green building that now it’s time to be thinking large-scale. Too many neighborhoods have been developed for one particular moment in our lives, lack energy efficiency, or allow vehicles to disconnect us from one another.

Why do we make places for our elders that are “away” from where we live? Why do we make family homes in communities without including homes for singles or downsizers that wish to continue to live within a community? Why do we create developments that are strictly “for sale homes” and not include rental opportunities for those that may not be able to afford or qualify for home loans?

Given our recent recovery from the mortgage crisis, an aging population, and rising energy costs, we need to begin changing the conversation about the places we create and their impact on our planet and our lives.


Photos: Grow Community

This article appeared in Issue 1 | Winter 2015

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