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ECO-INTELLIGENT COMMUNITY - GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA

Developing an Eco-intelligent Community
Madera – Gainesville, FL

Project Summary

Organization: Since 1914, the Florida Cooperative Extension Service, as part of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, has served each of the State's 67 counties by providing information and conducting educational programs on issues of public interest.  The mission of the Cooperative Extension Service is to provide scientific knowledge and expertise to the public about a number of different topics including natural resource and energy conservation.  Greentrust LLC and Earth 911 are partners on the project.

Summary:  The project addresses a critical need in Florida for residential communities to incorporate eco-friendly practices in the management of their homes, yards, and neighborhoods.  The management of residential areas has an impact on the environment at both local and broad scales.  The goal of this project is to develop, implement, and evaluate an environmental education program that will promote homeowner awareness and participation in eco-friendly management of their homes, yards, and neighborhoods and increase their awareness and interaction with their local environment.  We plan to implement the environmental education program within two adjacent residential developments (named Madera and Idylwild) in Gainesville, FL.  Madera and Idylwild residents are the target audience.  Through a combination of interpretive kiosks, a Website, and an online bird-monitoring program, the expected outcomes for this project are for homeowners to 1) have an increased awareness and appreciation of local floral and fauna, 2) have an increased participation in environmentally friendly landscape management practices, and 3) have an increased awareness and utilization of energy-saving and recycling practices within and around the home.  The program within the Madera/Idylwild subdivisions will serve as a model program for other residential communities throughout Florida and the U.S.  A national audience will view the Madera/Idylwild community through Earth 911 Website (http://www.earth911.org). 

Educational Priorities:  The project meets the EPA's priorities for community issues, wide application, and partnerships.  The project is to serve as a model for increasing public awareness and participation in eco-friendly management practices within a neighborhood.  The project reaches a national audience through Earth 911 Website, and it promotes partnerships between the University of Florida’s Department of Agricultural & Biological Engineering, Department of Wildlife Ecology & Conservation, Earth 911, and Greentrust LLC.

Audience:  This project targets homeowners that live in the Madera/Idylwild residential community.  However, because the project will be conducted within a residential community and exported through Earth 911 Website, a diverse, national audience will be reached.  This project primarily targets people who reside or work in residential areas, particularly homeowners that make decisions about how to manage their homes, yards, and neighborhoods. 

Delivery Methods:  Beginning August of 2002, University of Florida Cooperative Extension Specialists and students will conduct workshops to introduce the idea of the environmental education program to Madera/Idylwild residents.  The program will contain three integrative approaches to reach homeowners in the neighborhood.  First, interpretive kiosks will be placed in the Madera development that address energy-saving practices, eco-friendly management of yards and neighborhoods, and information about local flora and fauna.  Second, a Website (housed on Earth 911 Website) will be developed to provide in-depth information, permit the public to view the results of long-term monitoring efforts, and allow a national and local audience to interact with the scientists and participants involved in the project.  Third, a bird-monitoring program will be initiated where residents will work with University of Florida scientists and students to collect bird data.  In particular, residents will monitor a wintering sandhill crane population that is right next to the Madera development.  Training workshops will be given to participants on how to collect data, enter data through their home computer, and how to view data on the Website.  Faculty and students will conduct follow-up community workshops to present results, get feedback from the community, and evaluate future plans for the project.

Costs: The total cost of this project is $16,434.  We are seeking $13,134 from the EPA to support the construction of kiosks and a Website associated with the environmental education program.

Project Description

Background:  Urban areas are rapidly increasing in North America and around the world, and over 70% of the populace resides in such environments (Population Division of the U.N. Secretariat 2000).  The expansion of urban cities is quite rapid; the rate that lands are converted to urban use has been estimated to exceed population growth by a factor of six to ten (Richmond 1996).  This can translate into a huge land area; for example, Phoenix AZ, annexed 214 square miles between 1990 and 1997 (Gober 1998).  Because urban landscapes are becoming a prominent landscape type, these areas can have a profound impact on the environment, especially on local plant and animal communities. 

Several “green” developments are being built in Florida and elsewhere, but typically these developments are passive in nature.  Homes may be built to energy-efficient standards or have a conservation landscape design, but after the homes are sold, the developer leaves and it is up to the homeowners to manage their yards, neighborhoods, and homes.  Typically, no continuing educational program is implemented in these communities.  However, decisions made by homeowners ultimately determine whether a community functions as a “green” community.  For example, people determine what types of vegetation to plant (e.g., exotics vs. natives), how much water to use, and whether to ameliorate their yards for wildlife.  An environmental educational program that targets homeowners is needed to help increase environmental awareness within a neighborhood so that residents can make informed decisions and take action.

Overall, decisions made by homeowners affect the environment at local scales (e.g., providing backyard habitat for wildlife) and broad scales (e.g., conservation of endangered species or downstream affects of runoff from development).  Thus, it is important for homeowners to understand the potential environmental impact of their decisions and ways to implement alternative eco-friendly strategies.   Further, because a majority of the public resides in urban developments, an environmental education program situated within a residential community provides a unique opportunity for the public to learn about and interact with their environment, to become aware of environmental issues and make informed decisions.  There is genuine public interest to learn more about environmental issues and actions that improve local conditions.  A 1999 Florida natural resource survey of county extension agents, who have intricate knowledge of public wants and needs, found that most counties ranked water quality/quantity management, wildlife management, and backyard habitat programs as top priorities within their counties.

Project Goal and Objectives:  The goal of this project is to develop, implement, and evaluate an environmental education program that will promote homeowner awareness and participation in eco-friendly management of their homes, yards, and neighborhoods and increase their awareness and interaction with their local environment.  The objectives of the educational program are for homeowners to 1) have an increased awareness and appreciation of local floral and fauna, 2) have an increased participation in environmentally friendly landscape management practices, and 3) have an increased awareness and utilization of energy-saving and recycling practices within and around the home.

Site Description:  The proposed site for this project is a 44-acre property in Gainesville, FL, in Alachua County.  This is a prime location to establish an eco-intelligent development and educational program because Alachua is experiencing increased development activity.  Greentrust, LLC acquired an option on this 44-acre property in 2001, and the property is currently under construction.  The name of this new residential development is Madera, and it is located next to an older residential community called Idylwild.  Idylwild residents have used walking trails on the Madera property for years, and it is planned for several trails to be maintained and made available for both Madera and Idylwild residents.  The Madera development will contain many designs and strategies to enhance the environmental and ecological dimensions of the community such as Energy Star homes and preservation of native habitat.

Focus and Proposed Plan of ActionThe focus of this project is to design a variety of activities that provide outlets for Madera/Idylwild residents to contact, observe, and experience Nature and to learn about relevant environmental and ecological issues associated with managing residential areas.  The idea is to use the Madera/ Idylwild community as a testing ground for various residential-based environmental education activities.  Activities will concentrate on environmental and ecological issues that are literally close to home.  They are intended to highlight animals and plants that occur in the home, backyard, neighborhood, and surrounding habitat.  It will also highlight the various eco-friendly strategies that were incorporated in the Madera development, and to educate people about management strategies that have a positive effect on the environment.  As compared to other residential communities that do not have an environmental education program, we expect Madera/Idylwild residents will have an increased awareness of environmental issues and management, be more knowledgeable about local wildlife and plants, and have an increased participation in eco-friendly practices that reduce the impact on the environment.  In particular, we expect Madera/Idylwild residents to plant more native plants; be able to identify local invasive-exotic plants, use less water and energy; have less property dedicated to lawn; reduce the amount of pesticides/fertilizers/herbicides used; have increased knowledge about sandhill cranes and other migratory birds; and design more of their property for wildlife.

In addition, much of the focus will be to export the residential-based environmental education program at Madera/Idylwild to outside communities.  Essentially, this is a pilot project that will be expanded and used as a springboard to retrofit or establish similar programs in other residential neighborhoods.  For this project, three approaches will be used, and all three approaches are interconnected to provide a total program.

Interpretive Kiosks:  Three highly visible interpretive kiosks will be designed and placed in the trail system where people traffic is high.  Each of the kiosks will contain informative displays that discuss a particular topic.  These kiosks will not only provide pertinent information about a particular environmental issue, but they will be a catalyst by which people can learn about the interactive Website; a place to network with their neighbors; and a central location to learn about results of the bird-monitoring program.  Kiosks will be dynamic in that different information will be placed on the kiosk during different times of the year.

·Interactive Website:  A Website will be constructed that will highlight environmental information and management strategies pertinent to the Madera/Idylwild community.  This Website will not only contain information about ongoing educational and monitoring programs, but it will be a place where people from both within and outside the community can interact and discuss many different topics regarding eco-friendly management.  This Website will be located on Earth 911 Website and will invite interested parties to explore the community, to enter into discussions directly with the residents, and to explore how the ideas generated at this development could be used in their own community. 

Long-term Monitoring:  A bird-monitoring project will be conducted within the Madera/Idylwild developments that will include active participation by both youth and adults.  Through multiple workshops, Madera/Idywild residents will be trained on how to survey birds, enter data, and view results.  A current bird-monitoring Website (developed by Wildlife Extension office - see http://bird.ifas.ufl.edu) will be used and linked to this project’s Website.  

Planning and Implementation Since the summer of 2001, scientists at the University of Florida have consulted with the Greentrust LLC developer about implementing environmentally friendly strategies for the Madera development.  A sample of strategies include building Energy-Star homes, planting and retaining native vegetation, and keeping natural connectivity in the landscape.  Building upon this initial planning effort, this project will design an environmental education program that will allow residents to experience, observe, and interact with nature, and implement complimentary environmental management strategies.  Based on a focus group consisting of various natural resource professionals (held October 22, 2001) and on the wealth of knowledge within the Cooperative Extension Service, the project will first concentrate on local wildlife issues, environmentally friendly landscape management practices, and energy-saving and recycling practices within and around the home.  A sample of environmental topics includes providing habitat for migrating and resident bird species, pet management, identification and removal of local invasive-exotic plants, native plants for landscaping, and home energy-saving tips.

Beginning August 2002, University of Florida Extension Specialists and students will conduct workshops to foster communication with Madera/Idylwild residents and to introduce the idea of the environmental education program that will be implemented within the community.  Homeowners will be trained in bird-survey techniques and how to enter data onto the Extension bird-monitoring Website (http://bird.ifas.ufl.edu).  Starting September 2002, UF faculty will begin to design and build the interpretive kiosks.  During this time, in conjunction with the University of Florida’s Office of Information Technologies, a student will be hired to design the Website.  Kiosks and a bird-viewing blind (for observing the sandhill cranes) will be placed in the community, and the Website will be completed by July 2003.  In July 2003, a workshop will be held for residents and a brochure (explaining the environmental education program) will be delivered to all homeowners within the Madera/Idylwild community.  Several volunteers will be elected as “knowledgeable contacts” to serve as a local source of information about the environmental education program and will undergo additional training to serve as a “caretaker” of the kiosks.  Environmental information and activities placed on the kiosks and Website will be derived from a number of Florida Extension and agency sources including Wildlife Extension (http://www.wec.ufl.edu/extension), Energy Extension (http://www.energy.ufl.edu), Environmental Horticulture (http://hort.ufl.edu/fyn), Alachua County Department of Public Works (http://www.alachuacounty.us/government/depts/pw/) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (http://myfwc.com/).   All of these sources have numerous fact sheets, environmental programs, and ecological information pertinent to homeowners.

Project Evaluation:  As stated earlier, the goal of this project is to develop, implement, and evaluate an environmental education program that will promote homeowner awareness and participation in eco-friendly management of their homes, yards, and neighborhoods and increase their awareness and interaction with their local environment.  To assess whether this goal is met, the project will be evaluated in the following ways.  First, a pre-test questionnaire will be administered to Madera/Idylwild homeowners over the phone and the same questionnaire will be administered to a local “green” development (called Mentone – Gainesville, FL) and to a random draw of the general population in Gainesville.  After the environmental education program has been implemented for a year, a post-test questionnaire will be administered to all parties.  Results will be compared to determine how the program had affected the knowledge, attitudes, and behavior of Madera/Idylwild homeowners. 

A more qualitative evaluation will be accomplished through monitoring the number of people that use the Website.  A successful program would see an increase in the number of hits to the Website, and the number of participants entering data into the bird-monitoring program.  In addition, UF faculty and students will conduct several follow-up workshops with participants to present preliminary monitoring results and to obtain comments and suggestions from the Madera/Idylwild homeowners on how to improve the program.  These workshops will be done 6 and 12 months after the implementation of the kiosks (i.e., January and July 2004).  Also, workshops will be held for other interested homeowner associations and residential communities to set-up a similar program in their neighborhoods.

Educational Priorities:  This project addresses several EPA educational priorities in the following ways:

  • Community Issues: Eco-friendly management of residential developments is an important issue in Florida and in most other states.  The Florida Cooperative Extension Service will plan, implement, and evaluate this environmental education program that informs and involves the public in a working model of an eco-intelligent development. Results from the environmental education program will be compiled into reports and disseminated through the Website, and information will be conveyed through Extension workshops and seminars, community gatherings, and scientific meetings.
  • Wide Application: Through the Earth 911 Website, this project will be exported to a national and international audience.  The environmental education program at Madera/Idylwild will target a diverse audience that live and work in urban areas.
  • Partnerships:  The project fosters the formation of a collaborative working relationship between Department of Biological & Agricultural Engineering, Department of Wildlife Ecology & Conservation, Earth 911, and Greentrust LLC.

Project Partners: The University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, in conjunction with Earth 911 and Greentrust LLC, will conduct the project. 

Florida Cooperative Extension Service (http://www.ifas.ufl.edu):  The Florida Cooperative Extension Service has been a visible service to the state.  County Extension Agents are located in every county in Florida, and along with State Specialists, they provide many educational programs for the public that address a wide range of issues.  Extension Agents and Specialists will be crucial in disseminating information about this environmental education project and how to incorporate the similar environmental education projects in other residential developments.  The Extension Wildlife Specialist of WEC will coordinate efforts among the three partners; oversee the recruitment and training of a graduate student, undergraduate students, and volunteers; and coordinate the efforts of University faculty and County Extension Agents. 

Earth 911 (http://www.earth911.org): Earth 911’s role in this project is to provide a nationally and internationally recognized Website that can house the project Web page for an outside audience and to provide technical data base and Website design and maintenance support.  Dubbed "Earth 911" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, this free public service functions as a public and private sector partnership between federal, state and local government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private sector businesses.  A state-of-the-art, computerized, interactive phone and Internet system, Earth 911 operates nationwide at no cost to state and local governments and taxpayers. Earth 911 mission is to empower people of all ages with geographically-specific environmental information - including local recycling and household hazardous waste program information, stormwater pollution prevention, composting and kids resources - empowering citizens to protect the environment in their own backyard. This nationwide system operates through a single number, (480) 889-2650, and a single Website, http://www.earth911.org.  Earth 911’s commitment will be administered by Tim Gormley.  Tim has a wealth of experience in program development and implementation.  An estimate of the value of Earth 911 hard system as well as partnerships that support it is $2,500,000 per year.

Greentrust LLC:  Greentrust, LLC, is a private development company specializing in green communities.  The company mission is to create exemplary projects that serve as economically viable models of environmental stewardship in development.  Greentrust communities combine ecological site-planning techniques for habitat preservation and enhancement with resource-efficient building practices for water and energy conservation.  As the master developer of Madera, Greentrust is responsible for the design and construction of the community.  Greentrust is working in partnership with the University of Florida to ensure that the design, construction practices, and conditions, covenants, and restrictions of the community support the long-term goals of ecological stewardship and environmental education.

References

Gober, P. 1998.  The demographics of urban growth in Phoenix, p. 30-36. In: P. Melnick (ed.), Growth in Arizona: the machine in the garden. Morrison Institute for Public Policy, Tempe, AZ

Population Division of the U.N. Secretariat. 2000. World urbanization prospects: the 1999 revision. ESA/P/WP. 161, 27 March 2000.

Richmond, H. R. 1996. Land use policy for 21st century America: the conceptual basis of reform. Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust, Orlando, FL.

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