Common Ground Open House: The grand celebration

Solar panels provide energy for the homes of Common Ground.

Solar panels provide energy for the homes of Common Ground.

An interior of one of the handsome plaster-finished Common Ground homes.

On July 25, 2009, five hundred people (Lopez Island pop. 2,400), celebrated the Open House of Common Ground–a straw bale, earthen plaster, rainwater catchment, zero-net energy neighborhood developed by Lopez Community Land Trust (LCLT). Honored guests included Washington state legislators Rep. Jeff Morris and Rep. John McCoy, Governor Gregoire’s deputy communications director Laura Lockard, and Chief of Staff, Cindy Zehnder. Also joining us was Makere Ruka Te Korako, the spiritual elder of the Waitaha of New Zealand.

Lopez residents unleashed the power of community in this affordable housing effort, along with the extraordinary assistance of over 60 interns from around the world. MC Electric made electric cars available for test drive by those attending the event. There was a self-guided tour through the neighborhood, with six of the 11 homes open to the public.

During the opening ceremony both state legislators Jeff Morris and John McCoy spoke of the importance of such a project as a demonstration. The homes at Common Ground were designed to reduce energy consumption by 48% through passive design features. The ceremony concluded with the Common Ground residents breaking fresh baked bread with one another and staff of LCLT.

The inspiration for Common Ground came from a speech by William McDonough, the world-renowned architect, designer and author of the book Cradle to Cradle, a manifesto calling for the transformation of human industry through ecologically intelligent design. In this context McDonough asked a question: “How do we love all the children of all species for all time?”

A manual, Land, Water, Energy, Resource Use: A Systems Approach to Understanding our Fourth Affordable Housing Development has been published by LCLT in part through a generous contribution from the Washington state Department of Ecology. The manual is both inspiring and full of down-to-earth practical information. This manual shares the design principles and technologies used to get close to our vision of “Getting to Zero Energy Use.”

Since publication in late July the manual is already being utilized as a resource for a housing development in British Columbia, and non-profits in both Israel and Bolivia have consulted with LCLT. The manual can be obtained online (, or a bound hard copy can be obtained from LCLT for a minimum $15 contribution. For more information please contact

“Common Ground is about reinventing the American Dream. In the years ahead, Americans will be compelled to shed some deeply ingrained habits of material consumption. These adjustments can be endured, nay, embraced, if people are confident that the country is headed to a more fulfilling transformation. I believe this transformation is fundamentally about discovering what it means to be truly human, not as ‘consumers’ but citizens, neighbors, friends, co-creators of a compelling new story that embraces social justice and a healthy planet. It’s about smaller footprints and larger lives,” Chris Greacen, resident of Common Ground, said.