Pollution is the biggest hurdle.
However, Prescott’s EcoHood seems to be gaining ground. Last year, the local ECOSA Institute (a training program for sustainable architecture and design) purchased a plot of land in the area slated for development as green student housing. In the summer of 2006, ECOSA’s permaculture design certification course will focus on plans for public space in the neighborhood as a whole. And a recent presentation on the EcoHood at a local satellite of the Bioneers Conference succeeded in attracting the attention of two investors instrumental in a number of Phoenix-based permaculture developments. Plans are now in the works for a permaculture apartment/condo complex centering on community gardens and supported by graywater, rainwater and solar-energy systems.
Even though the EcoHood area is part of a region experiencing a booming real estate market, complete with tony new developments, Millison maintains that—from an ecological point of view—Lincoln-Dameron truly is the wealthiest neighborhood in town.
“These ritzy new houses up on the hills,” says Millison, “are situated high off the water table on solid rock. They’re exposed to wind and wildfire, isolated from town, and they’re huge, which means they’re costly to heat and cool.” The EcoHood, on the other hand, has water at 12 to 20 feet (with old wells situated throughout the neighborhood), sits on an average eight feet of topsoil and is sheltered from wind by the surrounding topography as well as large, established cottonwood trees. The more modest size of the older homes also makes them cheaper to do green retrofitting.
“The native people of this area lived around the floodplains of the creeks,” says Millison. “When the settlers arrived, they did too. In a lot of Western towns like Prescott, it’s a similar scenario; the area was settled around some type of fertile pocket. This means that some of the oldest and most affordable neighborhoods also have the greatest potential for sustainability.”
The biggest hurdle faced by these eco-minded neighbors? “Pollution,” says Millison. “We’re downstream from the K-Mart parking lot, and wherever you dig around here, you find garbage. Bioremediation is a key challenge.”
The neighborhood is sheltered by older cottonwood trees.
Still, Millison maintains that the advantages of the EcoHood model of community sustainability are far-reaching and fundamental. “By working in a mid- to low-income neighborhood, you make it accessible. By working within the existing human footprint, you preserve wilderness, cut down on fuel consumption, and give yourself access to the waste stream of the city for recycled materials.” Additionally, the EcoHood model doesn’t require a large initial investment or a shift from mainstream models of family and homeownership. “Really, the concept is about bringing traditionally rural values like self-reliance, respect for the land and community into the city,” says Millison.
His advice for others seeking greater sustainability? “We need to take matters into our own hands,” says Millison. “It’s time to start where we are.”
More information on Prescott’s EcoHood and other Arizona-based permaculture projects is online at www.azpermaculture.org. Information on the ECOSA Institute’s summer Permaculture Certification Course: “Permaculture and Water for Drylands” is available at www.ecosainstitute.org.
Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainabilityby David Holmgren (2002)
Superbia: 31 Ways to Create Sustainable Neighborhoodsby Dan Chiras, Dave Wann (2004)
Permaculture Activist, Winter 2005-6 Issue, “Urban Permaculture”
Contact Andrew Millison through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan DeFreitas is a writer, poet and freelance journalist with a passion for sustainability and community. She has made her home in the high desert of Prescott, AZ since 1996.