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Sustainable Communities Sprouting

Nubanusit. Mereham. Masdar. New planetoids? Roll call for the attacking line of Brazil's national soccer team? The latest sugar substitutes? Nope, nope, and nope. Nubanusit, Mereham, and Masdar are three examples of a growing worldwide phenomenon: the zero-carbon village.
"Village" is applied loosely here; these areas range in scope from Nubanusit's 29-home community to the 50,000-person metropolis that will be Masdar (above). But they are united in ambition – to establish a place where inhabitants leave as light a footprint on their environment as possible. These three examples (along with eco-town progenitor BedZED and others) may just be the prototypes for future urban/suburban development.

Nubanusit Neighborhood and Farm, a “condominium cohousing community” in Peterborough, New Hampshire, is made up of 29 Earth-friendly homes, some offices, a “common house,” and a farm across 70 idyllic woodland acres. The homes, registered at the highest level of recognition with the U.S. Green Building Council, use techniques such as fresh-air ventilation and heat recovery. The community shares a central pellet-fueled boiler (No boiler in the basement to worry about? Kind of a liberating concept), and driving is restricted to the neighborhood’s perimeter. Yes, we may shudder at the thought of not being able to roll out of bed and hop into our cars, but think of the benefit of a forced daily walk. Plus, there’s always this. Or the Segway (maybe what inventor Dean Kamen declared seven years ago – with the likes of Steve Jobs echoing his sentiments – will actually come to pass: the Segway will instigate a new type of community development).

Mereham is part of the long-term eco-community plan in England. Well, it is if you ask the government. They want 10 “eco-towns” by 2020, the AP says. It isn’t, however, if you ask the people currently living in the region north of London where planners are hoping to build the 5,000-home development (the natives are not happy about the traffic and infrastructure ramifications on their heretofore undisturbed corner of East Cambridgeshire). The Mereham folks promise self-sufficiency, open-space preservation and wildlife conservation. The anti-Mereham folks tell them to stuff it. The argument raises an issue of ever-increasing relevance: As “going green” proves to be more and more profitable (for developers, for energy providers, etc.), how much can those behind such communities be trusted to keep the priority on the public’s welfare?

Masdar, billed as “the world’s first zero-carbon, zero-waste, car-free city,” is Abu Dhabi’s $22 billion emerald city imagining. Much of the cost of the district, set for completion in 2016, will be covered by selling carbon offsets. Masdar is the one place the world will be watching to see just how practical all the grandiose “zero-imprint city” talk is. And “grandiose” is the key word here. Among other things, the city has (or will have) its own university – a collaboration with MIT (nothing but the best, right?) called Masdar Institute of Science and Technology – and an “initiative” headquartered in a “positive energy” building, meaning it generates more energy than it consumes.

And for anybody who may be pooh-poohing the whole sustainable living concept, who clings to the mantra, “oil serves our needs just fine,” I can only hope you’re not missing the irony that lies in the fact that Masdar, the focus of the alternative-energy universe, is being built in one of the world’s most oil-rich nations.

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“Sustainable Communities Sprouting”