Community Land Trusts
The U.S. Institute for Community Economics defines a community land trust as “a non-profit corporation created to acquire and hold land for the benefit of a community and provide secure affordable access to land and housing for community residents”. Community land trusts balance the needs of individuals to access land and maintain security of tenure with a community’s need to maintain affordability, economic diversity, and local access to essential services.
These are some of the key features of community land trusts:
- Democratic Control: Community land trusts are typically formed at the grassroots level and controlled by their members.
- Non-profit Organization: independent, not-for-profit corporation that is legally registered in the province in which it is located
- acquires one or more parcels of land throughout a targeted geographic area with the intention of retaining ownership forever
- Although community land trusts intend never to resell their land, they can provide for the exclusive use of their land. Parcels of land can be conveyed to individual homeowners (or to the owners of other types of residential or commercial structures) through long-term leases.
- Perpetual Affordability: Community land trusts ensure that housing remains affordable by limiting the resale value of the homes, maintaining control of all housing transactions, and retaining a portion of any appreciation on the house itself. These formulas are written into the leasehold agreements. By design and by intent, the community land trust is committed to preserving the affordability of housing (and other structures), one owner after another, one generation after another, in perpetuity.
- The community land trust operates within a particular geographical area. It is guided by – and accountable to – the people who call this location their home. Any adult who resides on the community land trust's land and any adult who resides within the area deemed by the community land trust to be its 'community' can become a voting member of the community land trust
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporations research highlight entitled 'Critical Success Factors for Community Land Trusts in Canada' lists the following elements as being essential for the success of a community land trust in Canada: a sustainable business plan, strong leadership and administration, community support, education and outreach, community partnerships, capacity building, a national network and technical assistance, and government support.
A local example of a community land trust is that (http://www.back2land.ca) which developed next to the Falls Brook Centre (http://www.fallsbrookcentre.ca) in Knowlesville, NB. We have in mind to establish a community land trust and resident community first, then develop something along the lines of the Falls Brook Centre.
The ecovillage, or shared parts thereof, could be designed according to the principles of permaculture, so it would be useful at this stage to outline what is meant by the term.
Permaculture is essentially intentional design of ecological systems for the creation of sustainable human habitats. It originated in the mid-1970s when Australian ecologist Bill Mollison, having spent many years observing the Tasmanian rainforests, began to develop a new approach to agriculture. He theorized that if a society did not have a sustainable agricultural system as its base it was doomed to disaster, as many failed civilizations throughout history have illustrated (see Jared Diamond's 'Collapse').
The rainforests, he felt, were a model for an agricultural system which he termed a ‘permanent agriculture’ (or ‘permaculture’ for short). Such forests were hugely complex ecosystems requiring no external inputs of fertilizers or human labour, surviving solely on sunlight, rainwater and bedrock. They produced massive amounts of biomass on a huge range of levels, their soils were stable and fertile, they generated their own streams and weather patterns, they coped with disease by being so species diverse that any disease affected only one or two species and they had stood for many thousands of years.
Mollison and a student of his, David Holmgren, began to develop the system which they called permaculture. At first it was a purely agricultural system, focusing away from intensive chemically fed monocultures and towards an approach which favoured well thought out design and the use of perennial crops, which integrated people into the landscape and created diverse, edible landscapes modelled on natural woodlands. This came to be termed a 'food forest'. As the concept evolved however, it became clear that a sustainable and just future required the application of these principles not just to agriculture but also to economics, housing, energy production, trade, water, waste disposal, new settlements and urban regeneration. Permaculture became redefined to signify a culture that may truly endure permanently.
Permaculture is now a huge international movement, with projects happening in almost every country in the world. There are now whole villages and housing estates designed using the principles of permaculture design, as well as alternative economic systems, community energy programs, and a whole range of other positive projects at work around the world.
In terms of our overall project, permaculture offers an approach to the design of not just the landscape, but also the housing, the economic systems, the energy systems and the approach to waste disposal which maximizes the efficiency of each element and integrates them into a whole system. In practice, this would result in housing being designed to maximize solar gain and energy efficiency. There will also be an emphasis on local, natural building materials and water conservation. All organic wastes will be recycled onsite to nourish intensive small scale gardens, ornamental edible gardens, permaculture food forests, etc. There will be an emphasis on tree planting, mostly of productive species, planted so as to serve as many other functions as possible, i.e. windbreaks, erosion control, biomass etc. In short, the ecovillage will vastly increase the site’s biodiversity, its productivity, its soils, its water-holding capacity and its beauty, while at the same time much reducing its impacts on the environment, all through the utilization of sensible design.
Through the application of permaculture design to the landscape as a whole, the resultant landscape will be varied and attractive. There will be a strong emphasis on the landscape being productive, through the use of perennial plantings, principally trees, and it will also contain a pond, orchards, food forests and a range of walk routes and attractive resting places, like the sustainable community's central outdoor oven and integrated semi-circular bench. The design of such a landscape could, we feel, add to the ability of the grounds to support its inhabitants nutritionally, as it offers a wide range of potential harvests and resources.
A natural building involves a range of building systems and materials that place major emphasis on sustainability. Ways of achieving sustainability through natural building focus on durability and the use of minimally processed, plentiful or renewable resources, as well as those that, while recycled or salvaged, produce healthy living environments and maintain indoor air quality. One basis of natural building is the need to lessen the environmental impact of buildings and other supporting systems, without sacrificing comfort, health or aesthetics. To be more sustainable, natural building uses primarily abundantly available, renewable, reused or recycled materials. In addition to relying on natural building materials, the emphasis on the architectural design is heightened. The orientation of a building, the utilization of local climate and site conditions, the emphasis on natural ventilation through design, fundamentally lessen operational costs and positively impact the environmental. Another appealing basis for the use of natural building principles is that, with this approach, one can build shelters for under $1,000. For $1,000 - $5,000 you could have a nice, small home that would outlast most conventional wood-framed houses, and be quieter, non-toxic and more comfortable.
Straw bale walls are extremely well insulated, having an R-value ranging from R28 to R55. By way of comparison, conventional 2x6 stud walls have an R-value of approximately R14, and typical energy efficient windows have an R-value ranging from R5 to R10. Another advantage to straw bale construction is fire resistance. Perhaps counter-intuitively, straw bale walls practically won't burn. The reason for this is that the straw is so tightly packed that if ignited, it will smolder for a few minutes without ever really burning, due to the inability of oxygen to penetrate the dense bale. Seismic research performed on a load bearing straw bale model at the University of Nevada in 2009 yielded very encouraging results, with the structure not failing even at 200% of the highest recorded intensity of shaking.
Cob is a mixture of clay-rich earth, sand, and finely chopped straw. This mixture can be sculpted to create organically flowing walls and functional outcroppings. When hardened, it can be coated in linseed oil and colored.
Rubble Trench Foundations
The rubble trench foundation, a construction approach popularized by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, is a type of foundation that uses loose stone or rubble to minimize the use of concrete and improve drainage. It is considered more environmentally friendly than other types of foundation because cement manufacturing requires the use of enormous amounts of energy. However, some soil environments are not suitable for this kind of foundation, particularly expansive and poor load bearing soils. We are in the process of confirming that our soil is suitable. If it isn't, we will decide on another type of foundation.
We plan to build a straw bale and timber framed house with the interior sculpted from cob. We are also considering a combination rubble trench and stem wall foundation.
Passive Solar Design
We are extremely interested in passive solar design. In the passive solar design of buildings, windows, walls, and floors are made to collect, store, and distribute solar energy in the form of heat in the winter and reject solar heat in the summer. Apertures could be placed in such a way as to maximize intake of winter sun and minimize intake of summer sun. Passive solar design also involves long roof overhangs, the length and angle of which are set to maximize blocking of the summer sun and maximize letting in the winter sun. Screen planting against winter winds can help to protect a building from coldness. Thermal mass flooring and/or walls hold energy from the suns rays and release it as heat over time. Light coloured roof materials discourage the transference of sunlight on the roof into heat in the house in the summer, and winter blinds discourage the transference of cold through windows in the winter.
Rocket Stove Mass Heaters
Rocket stove mass heaters could be installed in some of the homes. These are innovative and efficient space heating systems developed from the rocket stove (a type of hyper-efficient wood-burning stove) and the masonry heater. Wood is gravity fed into a J-shaped combustion chamber. From there, the hot gases enter a heavily insulated metal or fire-brick vertical secondary combustion chamber, the exhaust from which then passes along horizontal metal ducting embedded within a massive cob thermal store. The thermal store is large enough to retain heat for many hours and typically forms part of the structure of the building. They are normally self-built and are not yet recognized by all building codes which regulate the design and construction of heating systems within buildings. It might be well worth while to apply for that approval, and we have heard that they can be approved in New Brunswick if constructed by someone who is certified in the construction and/or maintenance of masonry heaters. There are a few important points about rocket stove mass heaters that any regulatory body responsible for approval ought to know. First, these are extremely efficient, clean-burning stoves, which means that much less smoke, if any, is expelled from the chimney. Second, these stoves are safer than conventional wood-burning stoves. Staying warm all night is a major safety concern with solid-fuel devices. Smoldering 'banked' fires put out smoke, creosote, and carbon monoxide, and increase the risk of conflagration. By way of contrast, rocket stove thermal mass heaters solve this problem by storing heat from a quick, hot, supervised fire, providing hours or days of comfort without further attention. It would also be helpful to collect information on precedents set, other places where rocket stove mass heaters have been approved.
Waste Water Treatment through Constructed Wetlands
As the name suggests, this is an ecological waste water treatment designed to mimic the cleansing functions of natural wetlands, which act as a biofilter, removing sediments and pollutants such as heavy metals from the water. This intensive bioremediation system can produce beneficial byproducts, such as reuse-quality water, ornamental plants, and plant products. In our climate, it would be accomplished through a system of tanks, pipes and filters that may be housed in a greenhouse to prevent freezing and raise the rate of biological activity. These systems can range in scale from a system used for an individual building to community-scale public works.
Conventional waste water treatment involves five inadequacies that waste water treatment through constructed wetlands address. First, conventional waste water treatment focuses narrowly on treating water and produces an often toxic sludge as a by-product of this cleaning process, while constructed wetlands greatly reduce this sludge by conversion into biomass. Second, conventional waste water treatment uses environmentally harmful chemicals to disinfect effluent following precipitation of solids (sludge) from the waste water stream, while constructed wetlands use biological processes instead of chemical inputs. Third, traditional processes do not adequately sequester heavy metals, while constructed wetlands can sequester heavy metals by plant uptake. Fourth, while conventional treatment runs into engineering troubles when it attempts to handle these microscopic particles, some patented constructed wetland systems have employed clams to filter colloidal materials and fine suspended solids. Fifth, while conventional treatment is capital and energy intensive, treatment through constructed wetlands is design intensive. The embodied fossil fuel energy in the heavy industrial infrastructure used in traditional activated sludge treatment is much greater than in the construction of a constructed wetland system with a large greenhouse, manufacture of plastic tanks, mechanical aerators, pumps and valves among other equipment.
Notable examples of this system include that of Findhorn (a long-established intentional community in Scotland), the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission headquarters, the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, and Evergreen Elementary School in Wayne County, northeastern Pennsylvania.
Perhaps the first building to be built on the site of the ecovillage may be what will one day become the community centre. During the early settlement stage, however, this building could be used as a staging area and accommodations to aid in the construction of individual homes.
Once all of the homes are built, this building would become a building where the community can hold meetings, share recreational activities, and house visitors.
To us, being an ecovillage, beyond taking care of us and our own, could be about active engagement with the wider community, with carefully planned demonstrations, workshops, festivals, and more - all aimed at the spread of sustainable practices and technologies. The community/visitor centre is where all of that could be centered.
Certified Organic Farm
If enough people are interested, the community land trust may choose to set aside a portion of the land for the establishment of a small certified organic farm. Residents may wish to work and earn a wage as farmers or tend a table at the farmer's market. Another model for it to operate on could be community supported agriculture (CSA), providing fresh vegetables to the larger community to which our ecovillage would be a part. This could operate as a farming cooperative, in which all profits are shared by the workers, or as a means to fund the ecovillage's communal needs and/or community outreach efforts.
Biodiesel Carshare Program
A successful carshare program might involve the purchase of a diesel vehicle by the community land trust or associated organization. Used cooking oil to make biofuel for this vehicle can be obtained from any fast food restaurant. The cost of this fuel, according to various online articles, is approximately 30 cents per liter. In Fredericton, no one we are aware of presently collects waste cooking oil from fast food restaurants to process it for use as vehicle fuel. It can be refined easily in a shed or garage using uncomplicated equipment and a straightforward procedure. Refinement involves little more than filtering out the charred organic matter and mixing the oil with some ethanol. It would require little to no alteration of the diesel vehicle. Diesel engines were actually designed to run on biodiesel, not petroleum based diesel. That said, care must be taken to ensure that rubber hoses and gaskets in the vehicle are replaced with ones composed of FKM.
For use on the farm and around the ecovillage, a diesel truck might be a wise choice. Besides it's use around the village, residents may have the opportunity to use it to go to town. Through various economic activities outlined elsewhere, we may eventually be able to raise enough money to buy a few diesel vehicles for a community carshare program.