Chicago’s Bringing Urban Orchards Back…Wait, What’s an Urban Orchard?

In news that gives me hope for the future, the city of Chicago—led by a rag-tag group of urban farmers—will break ground on an urban orchard later this year. The Chicago Rarities Orchard Project (CROP), which is the brainchild of Dave Snyder, will feature rare varieties of apples, cherries, plum and paw paws. The trees will grow together on a plot of land in the Logan Square neighborhood that’s been vacant for the past 65 years.

Plans for the Chicago Rarities Orchard Project, CROP. From The Architects Newspaper

Plans for the Chicago Rarities Orchard Project, CROP. From The Architects Newspaper

According to an article in The Architects Newspaper:

CROP started as a group of volunteers, but soon got the attention of Chicago’s department of Housing and Economic Development by teaming up with local urban farming and open space nonprofit NeighborSpace. In 2002, the Logan Square Open Space Project had called for the neighborhood farmers market to take over a lot surrounding the Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line, right where the train dives below ground between the California and Logan Square stations. The farmers market had become too big for that space, however, so the city bought the land from the CTA and transferred it to CROP.



Three cheers for teamwork, community spirit and urban farmers!

Farming in Suburbia

Apparently building a neighborhood around a farm is a new housing fad. At least, it is according to this article from Smithsonian Magazine, which profiled a few Development Supported Agriculture (DSA) neighborhoods around the U.S. The concept is much like a regular HOA-driven development with the exception of a working farm that neighbors help to support through money or time. It’s a way to preserve space and help people reconnect with their food source.

The neighborhood farm stand. (Photo from Willowsford Farm)

The neighborhood farm stand. (Photo from Willowsford Farm)

The idea is definitely innovative. Most people don’t know where their food comes from, aside from the local supermarket, and there is a growing number of people who wish to remedy the situation. Having a farm in the neighborhood allows people to know where their food comes from. The neighborhood farm sells produce to neighbors as well as people within the larger community. People can join the farm’s CSA and receive first dibs on tasty, locally grown produce.

The neighborhoods are more than farming communities. From the images, the houses are large, McMansions (which I don’t mean in a judgmental way—I just can’t think of a better term for them. They are what they are), and the communities have many of the amenities that are the cornerstone of many planned suburban communities—an HOA, recreational opportunities and parks, community events, etc. The neighborhoods seem to focus on creating a sense of community, much like other sustainable communities in Portland and Davis.

Well that’s a clever idea…
One of the DSA neighborhoods featured has implemented a culinary education program, where they provide information about how to cook what’s grown on the farm. It seems so simple, but in an age where many of us are either too tired to cook or just don’t know how to do so properly, a lesson in the kitchen is what we need.

So that’s how carrots grow.
In many of the DSA neighborhoods, neighbors can get hands-on experience in the garden. While they may not be paid for their labor, they do get to feel good helping out at the farm and get to experience the workings of a farm. Additionally, tours are given to keep others in the community in the loop about what’s going on.

Wait, so it costs more?
What I see as limiting is cost: one of these DSA neighborhoods has a CSA that neighbors can buy into, but it’s more expensive than the organic produce purchased in a store. Now, one could bring up that the CSA takes into account the true cost of food, etc.; however, eating well shouldn’t be reserved for those with fat wallets. Maybe cost isn’t an issue—maybe everyone in the neighborhood makes buckets of money and loves the feel-good factor of supporting their local farm. However, what about the families who are struggling to make ends meet or who are just getting by? It’s important to support local growers, but I wonder how the costs of the neighborhood CSAs compare to the costs of other CSAs in the region.

Waiting for fallout.
As with anything that seems remotely commie/hippie, I’m waiting for the fallout on this. I’m sure some tea bagging, anti-Agenda 21 moron is frothing at the mouth at the prospect of an entire community centered on a neighborhood farm. Oh, the humanity!

From parking lot to multi-use development

Check out this article from Fast Company about the Thornton Place project, a development that transformed a suburban mall into a mixed-use community with housing, health facilities and retail space. Located in Seattle, this development will meet the city’s growing housing needs while leaving a gentle footprint on the surrounding ecosystem. They paved paradise, put up a parking lot and then redeveloped it into a green development.

Green Gains Ground for Recent Homebuyers

As the American housing market continues to recover, more buyers are interested in the green features a home offers. According to the most recent NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 6% of home buyers in 2010 cited green/environmentally friendly community features as one of the reasons they chose to purchase a home in the neighborhood they did. This was most commonly cited by buyers in urban areas and married couples, and is an increase from 5% in 2009. Although it’s a modest increase, it is an important one, one that may reflect increased knowledge of green solutions for the home or one that indicates a generational shift in priorities.

Or perhaps it shows recognition by homebuyers that long-term costs associated with green alternatives saves the other kind of green as well. The top three green features of importance include heating and cooling costs, energy efficient appliances and energy efficient lighting. While landscaping for energy conservation and eco-friendly community features were deemed “not important,” this may change in the future as energy costs increase. Buyers in the South were more likely to say that the top three green features were important, which may be surprising to some, until you realize that the costs associated with air conditioning—a necessity for many during the hot, sticky summer months—can drive up the monthly electric bill to several hundred dollars. That’s a huge bill to face each month.

While an energy efficient oven or clothes washer/dryer may have higher costs upfront, they have been shown to save the owner money over time…and decrease that hard-to-swallow electric bill. Similarly, conducting an energy audit, adding insulation, installing awnings or whole house fans, or upgrading to low-E windows may cause some homeowners to balk at the initial costs, the potential savings are huge and can make those high electric bills a distant bad memory.

For an overview of energy consumption in the home, and to find ways to reduce your footprint, go to

Fasten Your Helmets: London’s Velodrome Receives Green Honors for Sustainable Features

The Velodrome

As London gets ready to host the Olympics this summer, one of its newest buildings is receiving accolades for its green features. The Velodrome, which will host track cycling events, was recognized by RIBA, received the Prime Minister’s Better Public Building Award and listed on CNN’s list of The Greenest Buildings of 2011. Designed by Hopkins Architects, the 6,000 seat Velodrome is one of the most sustainable buildings in the Olympic Park, and will be open for the local cycling community to enjoy once the Games are over. Not only is it the greenest, but it’s one of the few venues constructed that was completed to budget.

Rendering of the inside of the Velodrome


Sustainable features include:

  • Siberian pine track and cladding from Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood
  • Natural ventilation reduces need for air conditioning, while keeping the track level of the facility comfortable for competitors
  • Maximized use of natural light, reducing the need for artificial lighting

Oh, plus it’s touted as one of the fastest tracks in the world. Green and speedy—not too shabby.

The Velodrome is designed with cyclists in mind and intended to position London the cycling capital of the world, featuring a one mile road cycle circuit , BMX track and a mountain bike course (Now if only they could make navigation around the country a bit easier, says the American). VeloPark, as it will be known, will provide a safe place for cyclists of all types to train, improve their skills and have fun. In addition to a sustainable cycling facility, London also touts a innovative bike rental program with nearly 6,000 bikes available for hire.

Although Mayor Boris Johnson has tried to incite a cycling revolution over the last few years, change takes time. Like many cities, traffic in London is hell and owning a car in the UK is expensive. The Mayor seeks to dramatically increase the number of people who commute in London by bicycle. While the jury is out on the program’s success so far, we can agree on the physical, psychological and time benefits of cycling–in short, it keeps you thin, sane and will get you most places quicker than that 2000 pound depreciating hunk of plastic and metal you’re driving around.

Where's your helmet, Boris?

As a cyclist, I’m stoked that the Velodrome is green and a bitchen place to bike. Perhaps I’ll schlep my Giant over to the UK on my next visit and give the one mile road cycle circuit a whirl…assuming I’ve mastered clipless pedals by then, but that’s another story.