The EcoBlock Project: Greening Existing Neighborhoods

The Eco Block Project
The Eco Block Project. Image: UC Berkeley, College of Environmental Design.

Making the decision to go green on an individual basis is challenging. We depend so much on interconnected, shared systems, such as energy generation and water supply, especially in cities. This can make environmentally-conscious decision-making to confusing and even daunting.

However, the California city of Oakland is working with neighboring university, UC Berkley to help local residents live in way that’s easy for them while being easy on the planet, one city block at a time.

In 2017, Dr. Harrison Fraker, a professor of Architecture and Urban Design at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design, came up with the idea for the EcoBlock Project. While still in its design stages, the concept has created a workable template for other cities to follow.

One of the refreshing aspects of the EcoBlock Project is that it takes costs into perspective. So often there is a misconception that a move to a cleantech and green living future will be cost-prohibitive. The EcoBlock Project busts that myth and it designed for middle-to-low income neighborhoods, where homeowners might not be able to afford the costs of retrofitting to a more environmentally sustainable home.

By design, the project is intended to be implemented in existing building and neighborhoods vs. new construction sites. This promised to revolutionize existing city instead of just adding green housing at the edges of these neighborhoods as cities expand.

Here’s a video overview of the EcoBlock Project:

Step 1: Making Buildings More Energy Efficient

Making existing buildings more energy-efficient is the first step. You might think this sound complicated. But the “killer apps” for making older buildings more energy efficient is often, surprisingly, better insulation, caulk, and new windows.

Caulking windows
Ensuring that doors and windows are properly sealed is one of the easiest ways to make buildings more energy efficient. Photo: The EcoBlock Project.

Step 2: Solar Panels and a Communal Power Storage Unit

Next, solar panels are installed on all roofs on the block. Then, power stored in a communal flywheel battery from which all residents can draw electricity.

Step 3: EV Charging Stations and Shared Transportation Vehicles

The third step is installing electric vehicle charging stations, where residents can access shared electric cars, bikes, and scooters.

Results: An 80% Drop in Electricity Consumption and Net Zero Carbon Footprint

With these initial steps, it’s estimated that resident electricity consumption could drop by more than 80 percent, with the added benefit of a net zero carbon footprint.

Step 4: Rainwater Collection

Meanwhile, rainwater would be collected as it runs off roofs. Then it can be purified and used in washing machines and low-flush toilets. The grey water from showers and washing clothes could be used in gardens. There are also plans to recycle toilet water for lawns.

Results: A 50% Decrease in Water Consumption

The estimated drop in water consumption from these changes is expected to be 50 percent. There would be less run-off, as permeable sidewalks and pavement would let water trickle back into the ground rather than running off into storm sewers.

Oakland, California Skyline
Oakland, California. Photo: Basil D Soufi.

So far, the EcoBlock Project is a well-thought out concept. But the City of Oakland is eager to move forward with this project, and late last year solicited submissions from interested neighborhoods. They’ll need an entire block of residents who are willing to participate in return for a free retrofit and new energy-efficient appliances. The goal is to have the first EcoBlock completed by May 2023.

You can read more about the EcoBlock Project here.

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