Marcelle Fischler included us in a list of five standout sustainable communities in the United States, pointing out that today’s leading developments focus on a particular quality of life that is rooted in an old-fashioned sense of community, as well as eco-friendliness.

Eco-Friendly Communities are Surprisingly Retro

By Marcelle Sussman Fischler, Yahoo! Real Estate

December 15, 2011

The decision to live in one of America’s emerging eco-friendly housing developments isn’t strictly about reaping energy savings or protecting the environment.

Surprisingly, what a growing number of eco-friendly housing developments share is an old-fashioned sense of community: homes with welcoming front porches that encourage neighborliness, roads and sidewalks that are pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Locals gather on village greens and frequent farmers’ markets, local restaurants and shops.

As the demand for greener, more energy-efficient homes and sustainable living swells, home buyers from gen X to baby boomers are opting to live in eco-friendly communities, whether they are downtown infill projects, walkable suburban retrofits, smart growth projects, transit oriented developments or sustainable communities designed to quell ex-urban sprawl.

“Green is something consumers really want and is the emerging trend of how people are going to live,” says Ben Schulman, communications director for the Congress for the New Urbanism, an organization that promotes eco-friendly communities. “These communities tend to keep their value more than ex-urban sprawl.”


Feeling Centered

“Even in a suburban setting, you can have a real town center that people can use and walk to versus a strip mall,” says Scot Horst, a senior vice president of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC).

“If you find a place like that, people are happy,” Horst says. “Buildings and neighborhoods are spaces that define who we are.” In 2010 the USGBC created a checklist for sustainable or green communities, LEED for Neighborhood Development, with 155 communities registered. Another 101 participated in a pilot program.
From a development called Mueller in Austin, TX to Serenbe outside Atlanta, in many ways these smartly planned, transit-oriented, eco-conscious communities are raising the bar on quality of life. Some are urban-infill projects, built on repurposed rail yards, Navy yards and defunct airports; many are geared to affordable housing.
Mueller used to be a place to catch a plane. Now you can live, work and play there. The former municipal airport’s 700 acres are being redeveloped and transformed into a pedestrian-friendly urban village with a town center, parks, hundreds of LEED-certified buildings and a green hospital. Its 660 energy-efficient homes have diverted 9,002 tons of construction waste from landfills and saved more than 900,000 annual kilowatts. Reclaimed water is used to sprinkle lawns. Mueller’s public art includes solar–collecting sculptures that return energy to the grid.
Thirty minutes from Atlanta, the hamlet of Serenbe has 200 homes, a 20-room inn, art galleries, boutiques, three restaurants and a 30-acre organic farm that feeds a thriving Community Supported Agriculture program and Saturday farmers’ markets.
Tucker Berta, a spokesperson, said the 40,000 acre community, including at least 70 percent preserved open space, “was built because of a concern for urban sprawl and traditional development” swallowing more land. When complete, Serenbe will have “1,000 rooftops.”
Echoing small towns of times past, the 7,000 residents of Issaquah Highlands in Washington State, one of the greenest residential communities in the United States, live on narrow, tree-lined streets designed to encourage walking.
“At its heart, it set out to recapture the sense of community life prevalent when most Americans lived in small towns along quiet streets, waved to their neighbors on their front porches, and walked to the store, school and diner,” said Chris Hysom, director of community affairs for Port Blakely Communities, the developer. Its newest 10 “zHomes” incorporate “zero impact living” with technologies that are “cost effective, practical and deep-green.”
Eco-sensitive homebuyers aren’t just seeking solar homes with energy efficient appliances, bamboo flooring and electric car chargers. Many also want to live in like-minded communities. Following are five standout sustainable green communities.