We deliberately chose Waitakere City because their Eco-City policy was directly aligned with our vision. Ranui itself, primarily known as a culturally diverse, low income suburb with the attendant social issues, is also home to a number of innovative community initiatives and has enormous community spirit.
On the edge of the Auckland urban area, Ranui has easy access to both city amenities and the beautiful beaches, bush and agricultural areas of northwest Auckland and the west coast. Ranui is identified as a future town centre and growth node due to its location on the western rail corridor, and will be revitalised over the next few years as population and facilities increase.
Residents of Earthsong have easy walking access to shops, medical centre, library and community house. Buses are close by, it is an eight minute walk to Ranui Railway Station, and several schools are easily accessed on foot or by train.
Why are the cars parked to one side?
At Earthsong living space for people takes precedence over the needs of cars. Keeping cars to the edge leaves the rest of the neighbourhood safe and peaceful, and frees up space for living and growing areas. Neighbours stop to chat on their way home and children play safely. A variety of hand carts and trolleys are used to transport groceries and other goods.
The main pathway is drivable when necessary for an ambulance or occasional moving of heavy items, but at all other times the benefits of a safe and peaceful environment around the houses more than offset the occasional inconvenience of a wet day.
What is the 'common house'?
The large, beautiful house at the centre of Earthsong is a community building owned jointly by all the householders as an extension of their homes. By keeping the individual houses compact, we were able to build a shared common house that provides many more spaces and facilities to all than any one household could provide for themselves. The common house contains the large dining/meeting hall, sitting room, large kitchen, childrens' and teens' rooms, guest room, smaller quiet room and shared laundry. As well as providing space for the regular shared dinners and community meetings, the common house is a wonderful venue for residents' events such as large birthdays and other celebrations.
This building is also known as the Earthsong Centre, a venue for presentations and educational tours run by our educational trust, and can be used for meetings and events run by local interest groups and organizations compatible with the objectives of the trust.
What are common meals?
Twice a week, a beautiful home cooked meal is prepared in the common house kitchen by one of our 8 cooking teams. Most residents are on a cooking team and participate in the common meals, and because every team has at least one confident cook, even beginner cooks can enjoy the experience! Each team of 4 or 5 people cooks once a month; planning the menu, buying the food, preparing and serving the meal, doing the dishes and cleaning up. This is a big job, but is usually lots of fun and a great way to get to know your neighbours.
In return, the other 7 times a month you can relax after work and spend time with your family instead of cooking, and then turn up to a nutritious and tasty meal. You'll find yourself sitting next to some really interesting neighbours, having a great conversation for as long as you like, and leaving for your own home without even doing the dishes! Without a doubt the common dinners are the heart of the community, and many good friendships have grown around the dining tables.
But I do need my privacy...
The well designed terraced houses at Earthsong are more private than dense freestanding suburban housing, as houses generally face front and back rather than sideways into each other. Each house has its own private outdoor space, and privacy is respected within the neighbourhood.
There is high acoustic separation between the houses with the 350mm thick earth walls and double-stud timber walls with multilayered wall linings.
The scale and design of the neighbourhood, with many layers between the public and private areas, allows a unique flexibility and choice at any time between sociability and privacy.
How do I buy a house?
Ownership is by Unit Title, with the title to each individual dwelling including a share of the common land and facilities. As an established ownership system this makes it straightforward for owners to buy, sell and finance the houses. The safeguard for the community is that each new buyer must become a member of Earthsong Eco-Neighbourhood, a step which defines clearly the values, rights and responsibilities that come with living in this community. The membership steps are described here.
How do the prices compare?
Earthsong homes are comparable in price with other new high-quality townhouses in the region, but you get a lot more for your money! Built of natural non-toxic materials, the homes are healthy, superbly warm in winter and cool in summer, and built to last. As well as the individual house and yard, the cost also covers a share of the common house, workshop, gardens and orchard, giving a range of facilities not normally available to an individual home-owner.
Running costs are also very much less than for a standard home due to the solar water heaters and solar design of the houses. Residents achieve savings by co-ownership of some facilities and tools which individuals would use infrequently, such as the lawnmower and other garden equipment. Formal cooperative ventures such as common meals and the organic vegetable coop, as well as informal co-operation around such things as childcare and carpooling, all reduce both time and costs to individuals.
Can I rent a house?
Some houses are rented by their owners, but are in keen demand! We have a requirement that at least one resident in each house becomes a member of Earthsong, and in almost all situations renter members have the same rights and responsibilities as owner members, and are an integral part of our neighbourhood.
Amazing energy seems to have gone into this project. What inspires it?
The project's defining vision focuses on creating a model of socially and environmentally sustainable urban living, and this has continually inspired the over 100 people who have had a hand in planning Earthsong Eco-Neighbourhood. Input by residents-to-be at every stage has ensured that the design reflects the needs and wishes of the residents. Few developments ever have this degree of attention to design, but it is essential for quality urban living. The result is a strong sense of place and 'ownership'.
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