A Suburb that sings 'Don't Fence Me In'

Narrow, winding paths; people bicycling; shared yards with few fences; houses with lots of windows, all facing south. And lots of vegetables everywhere. A typical American suburb?

It could well be in the future if Mike and Judy Corbett's concept of community development catches on. While a few houses are identical at Village Homes in Davis, Calif., most have their very own energy-saving design.

The Corbetts did not want to create another housing tract. their goal was to make a community by designing small yards on the street sides of houses with large, open yards in the back. Every eight houses share a common yard, which the families collectively decide how to develop and maintain. Through traffic is eliminated by the use of long cul-de- sacs.

Most of the houses have nearly self-sufficient heating and cooling units. The Corbetts' own 2,100-square-foot solar home has high ceilings, lots of windows, and open spaces.

The only backup they have to their passive heating and cooling sytem is two wood-burning stoves. Most of their living-room ceiling is covered with glass. five insulated panels slide down to cover the skylights on winter nights and summer days. The floor is tiled to absord and radiate the sun better. Six water columns containing 1,000 gallons line a back wall upstairs and downstairs to provide additional heat storage.

Water heating is provided by a thermosiphon system, which places the solar collector lower than the storage (in this case, a 120-gallon tank). The less dense hot water will naturally rice to storage without the aid of a pump.

Grapevines are planted outside the windows, shading the house in the summer.

"Grapevines conveniently drop their leaves in the winter and let the sun in," says Chad Ankele, an administrative assistant to the Corbetts.

Good ventilation, light-colored stucco, and a concrete tile floor also keep the house cool in summer.

The streets in village Homes are narrow, not only for aesthetic reasons but also because asphalt radiates heat on hot summer days. Aboveground drainage, which reduced site development costs, also minimizes runoff, replenishes the water table, and creates brooks in which children can play.

Many of the common greenbelt areas are planted in orchards: plums, apples, almonds.

"That's part of the edible landscape," adds Mr. Ankele, who says that the Corbetts are hoping that the community can provide about 15 percent of the residents' food needs.

There also is a swimming pool, and areas are set aside for development of a community store and other commercial and industrial enterprises.

Houses have a wide price range, from about $50,000 up to $140,000. They go quickly. When it is completed there will be 150 houses in the 70-acre development.

Investors have talked to the Corbetts about designing a similar housing development on 640 acres in Kern County, Calif.

Fenced-in suburbia, watch out!

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