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In California, Building a Town With a Gentle Footprint

The one-planet aspects of Sonoma Mountain Village will be less obvious. Heat, hot water and electricity will be produced on site with renewable sources. Roof-mounted solar collectors will provide hot water. Passive solar design features that tap the warmth of the sun will produce most household heat; the cloudy weather backup heating will be provided by a community-wide grid of geothermal heat pumps that capture the warmth of the earth. Electricity will come from solar photovoltaic panels, which will be arrayed on the roofs of all the commercial and some residential buildings. The combined output of that system will be shared among the households and businesses.

Cisterns throughout the project will collect and treat rain to be used for irrigating the landscape during the nine-month dry season.

To give the local economy a boost and reduce the environmental impact of shipping materials across the country, some major construction components, including cabinetry and framing, will be produced by local firms. Codding is also using recycled and reused materials to an impressive degree.

The firm opted for steel framing instead of wood because there is less waste, and the framing will be made from recycled automobile parts.

Every front door will be made of reclaimed wood salvaged from local rivers and lakes by a firm that also makes the doors. The flooring for the front porches will be recycled, lightweight, fly-ash concrete. Unlike conventional concrete that is made with energy-intensive Portland cement, fly-ash concrete is made with the waste that accumulates at coal-powered electric plants.

For many people, though, the most interesting aspect of this project could be the social engineering. The company said it wants to create a sense of community and a consensus for living within a smaller ecological footprint.

To do that, it needs to foster casual socializing. Each neighborhood will have a New Urbanist treatment: narrow streets lined with wide sidewalks and porches. In many cases, kitchens will overlook the street so that a resident working at the sink can wave to passersby or chat when windows are open. Each neighborhood will have a pocket park with public art.

To reduce car use, the town center will offer essential services as well as entertainment venues, a movie theater, restaurants, a bakery and a daily farmers market. For commuting, residents can choose carpools, buses or a shuttle service to the local train station. For those willing to eschew a car altogether, the developer will organize a car-share club that lets members rent hybrid or electric cars by the hour.

For more information on the ecological footprint, see http://www.footprintnetwork.org. For more information on Sonoma Mountain Village, seehttp://www.sonomamountainvillage.com.

Katherine Salant can be contacted via her Web site, http://www.katherinesalant.com.

© 2008 Katherine Salant


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company