20 Years After EcoVillage Formed, Residents Still Find Sustainable Living

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Driving through EcoVillage, you may not know it’s any different than the surrounding blocks. Sure, you might notice the logo stamped into the sidewalk, or the name over street signs, but what makes this neighborhood uniquely EcoVillage?

When I chose to buy a house in Detroit Shoreway on Cleveland’s west side, I didn’t know much about the neighborhood, but I soon learned that I had moved into Cleveland’s only EcoVillage. But the things that give the neighborhood the “eco” part of its name are actually reasons I chose to move there: access to public transportation, the 22-acre greenspace, and the walkability of the neighborhood.

Those things also drew Peet McCain to the small neighborhood. He liked that his house was built to be eco-friendly, which meant a lower utility bill for him each month. He fully embraced the idea, which was established in 1998, about a decade before he moved in.

“A bunch of neighbors would get together, and just walk through the neighborhood on an evening. They’d pick up garbage and say hello to the other neighbors,” McCain said.

His house is also built next to a community garden, where he and about 30 other gardeners have a plot. McCain says when EcoVillage was started, the community garden was one of the first of its kind in the area. Now, there are more than 250 community gardens in Cuyahoga County, according to the Ohio State University Extension.

McCain says the garden brings people together.

“You start out talking about the gardens, but then you start talking to people about the other parts of the community, while you’re gardening,” McCain said. “And that is what makes a community.”

An ecovillage is a community where people seek to have as little impact on the environment as possible. Often, these are new developments, independent of other neighborhoods. It’s rare to find an ecovillage in the heart of the city, says Wendy Kellogg, one of the co-founders of Cleveland’s EcoVillage.

The founders wanted to use environmentally friendly practices to attract development and new residents to a Cleveland neighborhood.

“It probably would have been easier to get people in Cleveland Heights or Lakewood to do this because there’s a population that already liked and was aware of sustainability issues, but the need wasn’t there,” Kellogg said.

Shortly after EcoVillage formed, the city helped build a row of eco-friendly townhouses on 58th Street and a couple green-built tiny homes nearby. It was innovative at the time, but now, many developments are eco-friendly, because people want lower utility costs. Kellogg says the goal from the beginning was to demonstrate to other communities that this could work for them.

“That definitely happened. Maybe not to the extent or explicitly, but if you look at the community development organizations around town, they all learned from what was happening in the EcoVillage, about green building and how sustainability can be a framework for better food and health and cleaner environment that benefits people in the neighborhood,” Kellogg said. “There’s been a lot of adoption of the principles and the kind of projects in the EcoVillage in other communities in Cleveland.”

Longtime resident Kathy Birsan grows Hungarian peppers, tomatoes, and other vegetables in her backyard garden. She wasn’t aware of her neighborhood’s designation, but she sees the value.

“I didn’t know that much about this area, but I moved here because of my daughters, to be close for college,” Birsan said.

Residents may not be aware of EcoVillage’s mission, but that’s not the point. The founders want residents to be able to take advantage of the neighborhood’s amenities, like walking a trail in the nearby green space or catching a bus downtown. Then it becomes just a way of life.

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