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Chatham University Hopes To Model Sustainable Living With New Residential Community

Chatham University
A mockup of the EcoVillage.

For 20 years Stefani Danes has attempted to start a sustainable cohousing community in Pittsburgh.

Now, her plan could become reality thanks to a partnership with Chatham University to create an EcoVillage. An EcoVillage is a type of alternative housing developed in Denmark 30 years ago that revolves around sustainability and intentional living practices.

In 2022, Danes plans to live in an energy-efficient townhouse with her husband surrounded by about 30 other units in Richland Township, about 20 miles north of Pittsburgh. The development will be housed on Chatham's Eden Hall campus, which is already home to an organic farm and zero-carbon buildings.

Danes, an architect and project manager for the Chatham EcoVillage, and the others interested in joining her are in the planning and design stages. They meet regularly to work on a governance structure for the community. They’ve named it the Rachel Carson EcoVillage after the environmentalist and Chatham alumna.

"First, we want to bring people together who want to be neighbors and then together we develop the housing."

The village will consist of 35 ecologically designed private townhouses ranging in size from studios to three-bedroom units, with shared community areas. They will be attached to each other to save on monthly energy bills. Danes said the goal is for the buildings to be certified by the Passive House Institute.

“The construction will be based on computer simulations of energy and the management of heat and moisture in the building envelope. This can reduce demand by as much as 75%. To eliminate combustion from inside the units, they will be heated and cooled electrically by small efficient devices such as ductless heat pumps,” according to the Rachel Carson EcoVillage website.  

Groundbreaking is expected to happen in 2021 and construction in 2022.

“Housing is a huge part of our fossil fuel consumption. But the most important thing is we’re going to cut down the demand so much that we won’t be using nearly as much fossil fuels as I do in my house right now,” Danes said.  

There are hundreds of EcoVillages around the world, but Danes says the partnership with Chatham is unique. It will be the first EcoVillage on a college campus.

“In the long run, I would love to see this as a model that other schools find a new kind of relationship with people in a continuing learning situation,” Danes said.

In a press release Chatham said the project aligns with its overall commitment to sustainability and the living-learning laboratory of Eden Hall. According to the university, EcoVillage residents will be able to participate in ecological projects and sustainability practices developed on the campus.

“The EcoVillage’s founding community members include artists, educators, engineers, and other environmentally conscious creators and professionals currently living in the greater Pittsburgh area. Several members have also been active in eco-friendly initiatives, including The Pittsburgh Cohousing Group, the Pennsylvania Resources Council, and Sunrise Movement Pittsburgh,” the university said in its news release.