Sunday, November 6, 2011

Eco Village at Ithaca

Ithaca, NY

Frog's Common House
There is a wonderful concept-village in Ithaca that is about twenty years old. A group of people got together and came up with an idea around shared values and built a modern "commune" where individuals own their own homes and share common grounds as well as regular meals. 

I've been here for two days and asked a thousand questions. Distilled down, the answers to all those questions are this:

The group owns a large chunk of wooded land west of the city, high on a bluff. The community sits at the end of Rachel Carson Way, a tribute to the author of Silent Spring. It is environmentally conscious with green building techniques, recycling, composting, organic gardens, no 'streets', cars parked outside in covered parking, and a deep sense of community. There are two neighborhoods. Frog was built first, and as fitting its name, has a swimming pond.  Frog was built in one single effort, so all the homes have a similar architectural style, and the cabinets, appliances etc, were purchased in bulk to save money. The homes are duplexes and the neighborhood was built in quadrants so that the people in each quadrant can be a small sharing group. They share a weed eater and a mower for instance. 

Song is the second neighborhood, with a very different style. The outside of the houses are intended to blend together, but each was built by individuals so the layouts are unique. The buildings are also duplexes and some even share a heating system as well as backyards and gardens. 

The Song Neighborhood

The Frog Neighborhood

A third neighborhood is currently being planned and will be built across Rachel Carson Way in a large cleared field, currently full of stakes.

Each neighborhood has regular meetings in a common house where they also share three or four meals a week. The kitchens in both common houses are impressive with double stoves, lots of counter space, racks of dishes, a clean room for washing dishes, and a large stocked pantry. There are teams of people, lead by a head cook, who cook the meals and clean up afterwards. A shared laundry is also provided, complete with big industrial dryers and clotheslines outside. Every family in the community is responsible for "donating" a certain number of work hours per week. There are teams for all kinds of activities: mowing, snow removal, cooking, upkeep.

One of the founders wrote a book describing the concept and such issues as how they resolved disputes, whether or not to rent parts of the land to farmers for organic food production, selling and renting the homes, rules about external upkeep and cleanliness, etc. It seems clear to me that the rules are different in the two neighborhoods. Song seems more laid back. There are bicycles, toys and tools out in the yards, gardens in front and back of the homes, less concern about keeping things painted, whereas Frog is more fastidious and well kept. There seem to be more children in Song too, and pets.

The Borg Cube House
The entire community uses the common lands, the pond, and the hiking trails. I checked out the trails and ended up outside the common lands without realizing it. I stumbled upon a house under construction deep in the woods. It looks like a Borg Cube from Star Trek. There were no vehicles around and I was dying of curiosity about the inside so I tested the door. It was unlocked. Ah, such temptation!! Inside for a quick look around, I heard faint scraping coming from upstairs. So I called out to announce myself. The builder was drywalling and came down to give me a brief tour. The owner has terrific allergies so this house is not only energy efficient, it's hypoallergenic. The drywall and texture are a special grade, the insulation is sandwiched between concrete walls and it's heated with underfloor hot water tubing. He said the owners would occupy it in about three more weeks. It looks so industrial with metal roof and gray concrete walls. I wonder if they will stucco it, paint it, or just leave it the way it is.

View of Song from one of the trails.

Kitchen in Song's Common House

Library, living room, and movie theater in Song's common
house. A screen descends over the books for videos

View of Frog's Common House from Song's central pathway.

A nice day for drying clothes.