The Forest Atrium
Ecovillage in the making
Roberts Creek, BC
An evolution of Co-Housing that embraces the surrounding ecosystem and provides affordable solutions to housing for a full-spectrum of demographics, while connecting community and local food systems. A model for how people can live in resilient community within nature’s open space, complete with diversified solutions.
The property provides simple low-cost tiny homes clustered around a shared central common space and farm area for people looking to live a very simple life in touch with nature and the surrounding community. The site has been used to demonstrate permaculture systems and is evolving towards serving as a model for local food resiliency, community building and experiential education.
- Serve as compliment to surroundings as part of rather than dominating
- Connecting neighbours by localizing and utilizing community assets and resources
- Innovative and creative development of a model for not just sustainability, but regenerative living
- An opportunity to have an affordable home unique to one’s needs
- Low ecological impact with non-intrusive and small footprint dwellings
BUILDING A FOUNDATION
“[A]fter years of being a relatively affordable place to live, house prices and rents had risen dramatically and that local residents, particularly individuals and families with low incomes, were finding it difficult to find housing that they could afford.” Median single-family sale prices in RC increased from around $200,000 in 1995 to over 500,000 after 2006.” 1
“Affordable housing is generally defined as housing that requires less than 30% of household income, but the median sales price for a house on the sunshine Coast is significantly higher than what a median income can provide for.” 2
One of the most high profile and successful solutions for this crisis is cohousing– a Danish model started more than 30 years ago. Roberts Creek Cohousing is comprised of 31 single family and duplex houses, clustered closely together to encourage community interaction and preserve the surrounding green space. Residents share a 2900sq ft common house on legally structured bare-land strata; each resident has ownership of their own lot and home, and a common space with kitchen facilities, a dining area, playroom and guest residences.
However, the local co-housing community has grown to cater to the over $350,000/unit economic demographic.
2. Cohesive Communities and Job Opportunities
81% or 2471, of seasonal dwellings on the coast come from rural areas like Roberts Creek, Halfmoon Bay and Pender Harbour 3
A lack of local employment and affordable housing are now recognized as barriers to young adults (between the ages of 20 and 44) calling the Sunshine Coast home. 4
Today’s youth need a manageable starting point which provides shelter built with logical health and safety concerns for under $30,000 or $325/month over 5 to 10 years. Diverse communities that include rich, poor, old, and young with a variety of shelter and lifestyle alternatives thrive as they allow for resource, assets and skill-sharing.
Balanced demographics and social/cultural mix improves community mental health and well-being.
3. Changing Physical Environments
The extended dry spell of 2012 lasted into mid-October, breaking records for lowest precipitation levels. With dry forecasts and dwindling water supplies, the SCRD imposed unprecedented Stage 3 and then Stage 4 outdoor water use restrictions.
Winter 2014, with the lack of precipitation, particularly on our mountains, this has the makings for one of the driest summers on record.
Whether or not weather patterns become more unpredictable, working with the land and all its potential for natural resource and energy harvesting will create resilience and take the pressure off civic infrastructure as the sole source of energy and essential provisions.
4. Food Security
The Sunshine Coast Community Food Action Initiative estimates that current local food production may only constitute 1% of our consumption.
In order to increase capacity of the local food system to feed 20% of our diet by 2020, we need to:
- Support local producers, foragers, harvesters and artisans
- Encourage community gardens including food forests and other perennial food and medicinal plants
- Foster and nurture education with a focus on Indigenous teachings that include sharing traditional skills and knowledge
- Educate the next generation because it takes many years to develop competency to grow food and manage land and resources
- Incorporate effective irrigation practices that minimize potable water use to ensure water supply does not present a barrier to food production 5
According to the Province of British Columbia’s 2007 Community Energy and Emissions Inventory, transportation accounts for approximately 35% of all greenhouse gas emissions on the Coast. Though BC Transit reports that transit ridership on the Coast is above average and accounts for approximately 5.7% of all personal transportation, there are an estimated 28,000 road vehicles on the Sunshine Coast of which approximately 60% are classified as large vehicles, including light trucks and vans, SUVs, and commercial vehicles. 6
Infrastructure primarily supportive of walking and riding encourages low-energy-use residents and allows for more inhabitants with little disruption to neighbours.
BC Hydro’s dams, generating stations, substations and transmission lines that produce electricity and deliver it to B.C. homes and businesses were built decades ago. And electricity demand in B.C. is expected to grow 40 per cent in the next two decades.7
If BC Hydro’s electrical infrastructure integrated grid ties along with every Smart Meter so that people can use solar, wind and micro-hydro power generation and feed it back into the grid, energy resiliency could be achieved.
The true cost of energy requirements for a tiny home is a fraction of that of an average-size dwelling.
True to individual site assessment, each property has its own strength for producing energy, whether it be sun, wind or water and the objective is to satisfy the needs of its inhabitants first and any surplus goes to neighbouring properties.
7. Waste Management
“Zero waste is a goal that is both pragmatic and visionary, to guide people to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are resources for others to use. Zero waste means designing and managing products and processes to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources...”8
Taking into account health and safety, while fully maximizing the potential of all resources, including but not exclusive to organic waste, human byproducts and materials generated and acquired. Various composting methods and aspiring towards the Zero Waste model are key components.
A Forest Atrium: Phase I (1988-2012)
Site specific observations and assessments over 25 years of the elements and how they relate to their ecological environmental and that of the surrounding community to facilitate land and housing designs that work with the natural surroundings. This extends to:
- raw materials and what is on hand that can build or contribute to structures and infrastructure: sand, clay, gravel, rocks, wood and soil included
- quality and quantity of sun, water, shade, trees and surrounding plants
- drastic change with up-slope clearcuts – increased water run off, decreased aquifer levels and desertification
- volume of water unpredictable with changing weather patterns and increased temperatures
- pooling, underground currents, pond habitats
- cistern and spring water for drinking
- water catchment systems for garden and grey water
Trees and plants, particularly native species
- retention and filtering of water and the geyser and desertification effects of their removal
- sun and shade relative to time and location on various parts of the property
- potential food, material and medicinal properties
- food gardens and what grows best with minimal care
- focus on soil building and attention to plants that rehabilitate
- wildlife patterns, proximity and potential effect on livestock and inhabitants
Climate and weather patterns
- seasonal shifts of light, temperature, water and wind and how it relates with all of the above factors
- microclimates throughout the property and diversification within each microclimate
Housing / Existing human habitat / Community
- how created habitats have responded to nature and the climate over the years
- immediate neighbours, community-building, resilience and security, privacy and strength in diversity
- Heart of the Creek, social and physical engagement
A Forest Atrium: Phase II (2013 – March 2014)
Community engagement with local local governments, advisors, collaborators, and businesses to conduct resource and skills assessments.
Participatory Design Process
Occupants have agreed that the land is to be revered and any alterations must work with rather than against it.
Input from community and a core group of future residents and land-users have created and been involved in the following:
- The Smart Farm Project’s exploration of small farm co-housing, funded by Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC, the Real Estate Foundation and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. As one of four featured projects, we were supplied with a team of consultants and advisors that included an architect, agrologist, financial and legal specialists. The results of this project can be viewed at www.deercrossingtheartfarm.org/smartfarm.
- Presentation to the Affordable Housing Committee December 4, 2013 in which the committee feedback suggested that the project would require a rezoning process with the associated consultations and referrals and that theoretically the Board could set up a special zone. There was discussion over similarly designed well-established projects such as www.dignityvillage.org in Portland. The Director noted the ideal location near both bus routes, services, parkland and in a neighbourhood with a similar but higher-end project next door.
- Presentation Dec 17, 2013 to Planning Department Head Steve Olmstead and his staff from planning and the building department. It was suggested that commercial sleeping unit in Pender Harbour that would be easy to modify to suit residential zoning. It was also suggested that a variance rezoning might be necessary.
- Two permaculture designers are actively engaged with mapping and planning land designs using long-term ecologically mindful principles
A Forest Atrium: Phase III (2013 – present)
Action plan and project realization through building primary dwelling, while preparing for central commonspace and tiny homes
Scattered about the property screened by forestation from each other for psychological contemplative space. Up to eight tiny homes, each with less than a 300SF ecological footprint, included in the plans are self-contained spaces with use of central commonspace that includes bathroom, kitchen facilities, laundry facilities, guestroom and food storage. There’s a broad range of tiny home alternatives that will reflect an individual’s taste, personality and basic needs.
Gardens and Food Production Sites
Applying principles of permaculture and utilizing the varied climate conditions on the property for occupant sustenance and resiliency. This will include, but are not exclusive to:
- varied soil, greenhouse plants and planting techniques with a focus on native species, locally sourced to sustain those living on site
- aquaponic/aquaculture creating habitat for food and fish together
- hugelkulture using up rotting wood, twigs, branches and even whole trees that would otherwise go to the dump or be burned
- hen tractor: fossil-fuel free way of plowing the land
Mentorship skills training through building houses and growing food as an honorable exchange to allow for real affordability, localized community resiliency with the added pride of having created your own place.
Power and Communications
Wind, solar, micro hydro, geothermal (i.e Argon-filled tubes or copper rods driven 6 feet into the ground then wired together under a cob floor to heat constant 50 degrees). Potential installation of fiberoptics and Internet satellite communication then wifi routered to each shelter.
It is a low impact site with access for emergency vehicles within 50 feet of each dwelling. The proximity to downtown Roberts Creek encourages residents to walk, ride, or use transit options in the new OCP planning zone, which allows for expanded occupancy. Handicapped-access will be available to the common areas and at least one of the private dwelling.
In accordance with the SCC: Energy and Emissions Plan and RCOCP
- Support Energy Efficient Land Use Practices
- Reduce Dependence on Single Occupant Vehicles
- Enhance the Green Building Sector
- Expand Local Renewable Energy Opportunities
- Reduce and Reuse Solid Waste as a Resource
- Strengthen the Local Economy
- Manage Brownfield Sites
- Foster a Culture of Conservation in the Community
User-friendly, environmentally aware building codes created in the best interests of all the citizens inspires a diverse and resilient community. Ecology and happiness should always trump economics for the betterment of all.
Let’s do together starting today!