Hometown Aurora

By Eviata Ivy
(May 2013)

Today, everyone is aware of the severe damage that has been done to our planet through the human pollution of the air, water, and land. The problems that are occurring as a result of this damage are becoming ever clearer as the world population rises and open landscapes continue to condense. In order to prevent further damage and try to repair the damages done, there has been a concerted effort to change the ways we have been living our lives and change the mindset of all the inhabitants of this magnificent planet, Earth.  The main effort is to make countries more accountable for the damage.  As a result of this effort the United States has placed an onus on each state to build more sustainable cities and communities.

Here in Illinois, sustainability is a top priority for the Governor, state senators to the mayors of the cities. In Chicago and some of its surrounding suburbs programs promoting sustainability have been established.  Within these sustainable programs, Green Design is a major contributing factor.  Green design is a “Product to design philosophy that treats environmental attributes as design objectives and not as constraints. It aims at incorporating those attributes without compromising performance, quality, functionality, and the useful life of the item.”  1

According to Enterprise Green Communities, which are the criteria used by the Illinois Housing and Development Authority, in conjunction with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency, which is also used by the Illinois Pollution Control Agency, the following criteria needs to be met in order for a project to be deemed Green:

  • Acknowledges that economic, environmental and social issues are interrelated and that these issues should be addressed “holistically.”
  • Recognizes the sensitive interface between the natural and built environments.
  • Understands and begins to shift away from polluting and wasteful practices.
  • Considers the full environmental, economic and social impacts/costs of development and community operations.
  • Understands its natural, cultural, historical and human assets and resources and acts to protect and enhance them.
  • Fosters multi-stakeholder collaboration and citizen participation.
  • Promotes resource conservation and pollution prevention.
  • Focuses on improving community health and quality of life.
  • Acts to create value-added products and services in the local economy.

I will be comparing the above listed criteria to the Hometown Aurora community to see if by the Environmental Protection Agency and Enterprise Green Communities standards it is truly a sustainable community; and if so, how their green design lends to the sustainability of the community.

Hometown Aurora is a “173 acres, 1288 homes, suburban experiment in building houses in patterns that maximize the social interaction of neighbors, also walks softly on the land.” (Professional Builder, 2004)  It is touted as a completely green and sustainable community.  But what makes this community sustainable?  The Hometown Aurora community consists of single family homes, lofts, townhomes and condominiums.  Every home was designed and built by Bigelow Homes, a company chosen as one of the 2005 Builders of the Year by The Professional Builders of Housing Zone Magazine (McCune, 2004). Not only are all the homes in this community designed and built by Bigelow, but the whole concept of the community was created by Bigelow. The homes built by Bigelow are energy efficient; environmentally friendly; and healthier than other homes.

Firstly, the homes are built using recycled materials.  The framework is designed for optimal structural strength and insulation, while using 10% less lumber. The walls are airtight drywall, which is designed to hold the heat inside the house. Every house has a heating and cooling system that is zoned by floor.  All the houses are equipped with ventilation systems, cold air ducts in every room; raised roof pitch that allow more insulation to be applied to attics and fully insulated basements.  All of these improvements mean 3550 BTUs (energy content) of natural gas, is saved every year.

Hometown promotes environmentally friendly practices by recycling all construction waste; by planting trees, grass, and other plants native to the region. Consequently, the community maintains its ecological balance and its natural defense against flooding.  As part of their green design, every house has a garden; there are over 12 parks in the community intended for the children to interact with nature; and the streets and sidewalks are strategically designed to keep automobile traffic to a minimum for the safety of all residents.

Bigelow homes are healthier than other homes because the unique ventilation system that allows the home to circulate fresh air continuously through the house. The ductwork in each home is strategically integrated into the walls to provide improved circulation, as well. With these improvements, allergens and pollutants are kept out of the house making for a healthy home. 2

Let’s take a look at the list of criterion that makes a community sustainable and green, and see how Hometown stacks up. The creators of Hometown acknowledged and recognized that there was a need for change in the wasteful ways homes are built; so they recycle all construction waste and use only recycled materials on their homes.  They were considerate of the environment, which is why they planted trees, flowers and other plants native to area.  This helps maintain a natural balance. Hometown fosters and promotes green living by educating and demanding they do so.  They publish a monthly magazine on green initiatives and issues in the community to keep residents informed.  Because the focus was to build healthier homes, Hometown’s homes have ventilation systems, not seen in other builder’s houses.   They also, incorporate their natural surroundings into the everyday lives of its residents by having the parks, bike routes, creeks, and retention ponds.

Finally, the last criterion for sustainability involves community involvement, for which Hometown receives high marks for its citizens’ participation in the process.  When an individual, family or senior chooses to become a part of the community, they know what they are signing up for before they sign any contracts. Every resident is given an orientation and a list of expectations for living in the community.  They must tour the community prior to purchasing and meet their potential neighbors. Understand they have a responsibility for maintaining the natural habitat, recycling, and continuing the green practices that the founders expect for the community.

After comparing Hometown to the sustainability criteria, each aspect of sustainability is incorporated into the Hometown community.  This community may very well be a blueprint for communities of the future.

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