Throughout the long history of human civilization and settlement, as worldwide population grew from millions into billions, a hallmark of quantitative growth has been our ambition to seek out varied and better ways to feed and shelter ourselves. Particularly during the past few centuries, that process has been dominated by exploitation of the Earth’s natural resources to satisfy both our essential and non-essential needs. Only in the relatively recent past have we, as a species, become commonly aware of the damage unsustainable exploitation is creating.
Our understanding of the elegant complexity of nature’s ecosystems remains a work-in-progress for humans, and we aren’t much beyond the starting blocks in that process of comprehension and appropriate response. Humility and acknowledgment of our ignorance in that regard empowers us to work toward modifying our behaviors in ways that respect and honor the Earth’s natural systems. Our homes and communities are truly only as secure as the environment around us is secure.
Acceptance of sustainable development principles is similarly a fairly recent concept. When applied to the creation of built communities, it becomes a fine-grained undertaking. A good example of a sustainable approach to sensitive development is the Conservation Community. The concept is to prioritize biologically sensitive land over the community’s live-work-play areas for residential, commercial, and recreational uses. This approach is not just a planning exercise. It necessitates a communal partnership with natural systems to enable residents to assume awareness of the health of the community’s surrounding natural ecosystems and the benefits stewardship provides to all living species.
Visionaries behind Conservation Communities are consistently passionate and determined to honor sustainable principles. These principles integrate with the built environment, where people live and work and play, by permanently protecting open space easily accessible by hiking trails. Created conservation and wetland areas can become a short walk from each neighborhood. This close juxtaposition of wildlife habitat adjacent to human habitat calls for a special bond between residents and the open spaces they care for so dearly.
Conservation communities should also feature organic farming that supports a farm-to-table, healthy food environment. Diversity, not only in the natural environment, but also in the built environment, is often an objective which can include age-qualified neighborhoods, affordable townhomes, and accessory dwelling units pre-designed for each single-family home. Car-optional communities mandate walkable and bike-friendly connections to the Town Center area for neighborhood goods and services. Streets can and should be narrowed to calm traffic. To complete the picture, a vast array of homeowner recreational amenities can include miles of trails, a fitness center, swimming, tennis, pickleball, basketball, softball, bocce, soccer, and occasionally golf.
Sustainable design is functional at many levels. For example, individual homes can be constructed with greywater recycling piping to make it easy and affordable for residents who conserve potable water usage. Open spaces and recreational areas can elegantly surround the community to function as wildfire buffer protection. Energy conservation begins with active and passive solar design that enables individual homes to become their own power plants. Sourcing sustainable materials and eliminating toxic components makes homes healthier. And a cultural awareness of “reduce, repurpose, and reuse” becomes a social glue that binds communities to doing their part to protect the environment. Conservation Communities can do so much more than the priority of preserving open space, and Lagoon Valley does just that.