Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature–the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. In nature nothing exists alone.
Silent Spring, September, 1962
Our community is inspired by the legacy of Rachel Carson (1907-1964) whose early fascination with nature led her to pursue an extraordinary career as a scientist, writer and educator. Childhood walks with her mother on their Western Pennsylvania farm instilled in Rachel Carson a ‘sense of wonder’ about the natural world that in turn inspired a life-long devotion to environmental stewardship. A science degree from Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University) started Rachel Carson on a journey to become a leading scientist and spokesperson for environmental concerns.
Rachel Carson taught us to see ourselves as part of nature, not a controller or even just a protector, but as inter- dependent with it: as reliant on the world we live in as it is on our good stewardship. We are founding the Rachel Carson EcoVillage on the premise that people have a valuable and purposeful role within the environment and that our presence can enhance the vibrancy and resilience of complex living systems.
We are committed to creating and cultivating connections: relationships among ecovillage neighbors, with the larger Chatham University community, and with the human and natural communities around us. The Rachel Carson Ecovillage is “of the land”, rooted to its place. It takes its identity from the place around it and in turn seeks to strengthen the identity of that place.
Chatham dedicated the property to its new Falk School of Sustainability and Environment, which was founded in 2010. One of the earliest schools of its kind in the country, the Falk School educates leaders with the knowledge to meet our growing sustainability challenges with programs in conservation, agro-ecology, sustainable food production, biodiversity, renewable energy systems, and change management.
Our story begins with the land. The site of the ecovillage is the area of Elizabeth Meadows on the Eden Hall campus of Chatham University, 20 miles north of downtown Pittsburgh. For many thousands of years, the site was a forest that grew on what was once the fertile shore of the great Inland Sea, a fitting resonance with Rachel Carson’s own deep interest in the seashore.
She wrote of such geological evolution, “And so in my mind’s eye these coastal forms merge and blend in a shifting, kaleidoscopic pattern in which there is no finality, no ultimate and fixed reality.”
In that kaleidoscope, the forest has given way to the patchwork of farm fields and woodlands we find today. The site was part of land purchased by one of H.J. Heinz Company’s first executives, Sebastian Mueller, in the 1880s, first as a horse farm for his family and later as a site for summer outings for factory workers. When Mueller died without heirs, he left Eden Hall Farm as a retreat for working women. The Eden Hall Foundation was established in 1983, and the land was gifted to Chatham in 2008.
Vision, Mission, Aims
Rachel Carson EcoVillage Our vision is a world where people value connections with each other and nature and human life contributes to the life of the planet. As a community and as individuals, Rachel Carson EcoVillage embraces ecologically creative living.
Our mission is to create a community in Pittsburgh where people and nature thrive. We believe that people have a valuable and purposeful role within the environment and that our presence can and should enhance the vibrancy and resilience of complex living systems.
We aim to accomplish our mission by:
- building a 35-unit cohousing ecovillage on the Eden Hall campus of Chatham University.
- attracting people who share a desire to participate in the community and also value the differences among each other.
- practicing constructive and compassionate communication so that we can govern our community equitably and effectively as a sociocracy.
- cultivating a low-energy, low-carbon lifestyle.
- contributing positively to the health and resilience of our natural ecosystems.
Preliminary Scope of the Project
At this point, we are planning for 35 units: 5 studios, 6 one-bedroom units, 17 two-bedroom units, and 7 three-bedroom units. The number and distribution of unit types may change in response to buyer interest. The scope and configuration of the development are subject to approval by Chatham University and Richland Township, as well as other unknown factors, and therefore may be modified. Refer to Appendix A for preliminary drawings.
Housing Units and Common House Based on preliminary concepts, we anticipate building three building types with 2-4 units in 3 courtyard clusters.
The sales price includes both the house and the household’s share of common facilities, and it covers the cost of construction, planning, and development. This is based on other recently built communities and can only be taken as a generally conservative idea of the range of prices.
Studio (500-600 sf) $150 – $200,000
One-bedroom (700-800 sf) $250 – $300,000
Two-bedroom (900-1300 sf) $280 – $380,000
Three-bedroom (1500-1600 sf) $400 – 490,000
Three-suite (2200-2400 sf) $750 – $800,000
There is no profit built into these costs—they will be offered for sale at the cost to build them. Should the number of units be reduced, these costs will be affected.
The Common House is a shared facility of approximately 2500-3000 square feet. It includes a dining/meeting room, a kitchen, mail/package pick-up, and two guestroom suites. Other amenities may be included, as well.
The units will be designed and constructed to conserve energy and minimize carbon emissions. To avoid combustion of fossil fuels, they will be all-electric, which makes it possible for them to be powered entirely by renewable energy. The units will be designed to meet high indoor air quality standards. It is our intent to be able to monitor building performance after construction to see how well they meet these goals.
Preliminary Site Plan
The Rachel Carson EcoVillage, the first ecovillage in the region, is a multi-generational community drawn together to create a rewarding and sustainable way of life. We are planning 35 units for households of different ages and sizes, along with a common house and other shared spaces. With well-defined targets for energy and carbon reduction, the houses will exceed most green construction standards today. The site is being designed on permaculture principles. Through the design of the ecovillage, we are aiming to have a positive ecological influence, even if it is very small and very local. We see this as an opportunity to take a step in a constructive direction, recognizing that the ecovillage is a very small intervention in the life of the natural world.
The number of parking spaces is yet to be determined and will depend on cost, buyer interest, and township requirements. The initial plan has 70 spaces in, 24 in shared garage buildings, though this may be increased if budget and space permit. A private driveway provides access and may be extended to the east to serve future development. The siting and building design are intended to fit well with the Eden Hall Campus character. It is also designed not to intrude on Chatham’s residential neighbors to the south.
Ownership and Sales
Each household owns its house (the building) and its share of the common facilities. The form of ownership is condominium. According to the terms of the bequest of the campus land to Chatham, the university must retain ownership of the property. The ecovillage will have a long-term (i.e., 99-year) “ground lease”, which will stipulate that the ecovillage may elect to renew the lease.
Individuals will be responsible for financing the purchase of their unit and paying their property taxes. Monthly maintenance charges will include operating expenses, insurance, debt service, and capital reserves but do not include utilities for individual units. They will also cover the university activities fee and a share of the ground lease. The amount will be determined by the community and negotiation with the university. Such fees typically run in the range of $150-350, but we cannot predict what it will be at this time. Communities that have a program of shared volunteer work are able to keep their fees lower.
When it comes to resales, experience has shown that houses in cohousing have held their value or have appreciated faster than the market as a whole. Any household leaving the community can legally sell their property and is entitled to the proceeds of the sale. The community will maintain a waiting list of persons interested in being informed if a unit becomes available, and the seller agrees to offer the unit to the first household on the list and proceed down the list until a prospect is found. The prospect is asked to apply through the membership process before the sale is completed. The purpose of this is to ensure that new buyers want to become active participants in the community and understand what that will entail. At a minimum, they will be asked to attend several common meals and at least one ecovillage business meeting. The seller agrees to confer with the community regarding the suitability of the prospective buyer. The process will be defined in greater specificity as we get closer to moving in.