Ecological footprints.

2nd floor plan
Here is one of three Nelson Commons residential floors, showing a reduced footprint in real terms. Click on it to increase the size.

In talking about Nelson Commons, the concepts of ‘density’ and ‘footprint’ often come up. We’d like share our thoughts on the subjects with you. The primary environmental contribution of any building project (particularly in this time of exponential population growth) is ‘density’, or what is increasingly called ‘eco-density’. That in itself is the primary factor that will reduce our human footprint on the landscape, preserving farm land and wilderness, while making much more efficient use of existing infrastructure and services and reducing the tax burden for all.

‘Density’ tends to have an unfortunate negative connotation for many people—that’s likely because so much of what we think of as density has been less than inspiring. Others believe that all growth should stop but that thinking  ignores the fact that our population is still growing and all people deserve a roof over their heads. ‘Density with artistry’ is what new urbanist James Kunstler calls for as the antidote to this bias. In the space that it would take for 5 to 10 homes in Fairview or Uphill, Nelson Commons offers 54 residences. On the same footprint, we will have the new Co-op grocery store and a small selection of other retailers.

Related, but distinct from density, is the need to make personal housing units smaller. Not only are the upfront building requirements of larger spaces more resource intensive, there is also the cost to furnish, heat, cool and maintain on an ongoing basis. The propensity to build over-sized, rambling homes is primarily a post WWII, North American phenomena initiated at a time when the world population was roughly 1/3 of what it is today. Fossil fuels and building materials were also cheap and abundant. The Nelson commons footprints range in size from 667 to 1176 square feet—relatively small but totally adequate.

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