As noted in my last post, HGTV’s 2012 Green Home is located in the bucolic and “sustainable” community of Serenbe, Georgia. I find the idea of building a “sustainable community” from scratch to be quite intriguing, so I read a bit about Serenbe on HGTV’s site and on the community’s own web page.
An Overview: The 900-acre community is located in one of the “last undeveloped stretches of land in the Atlanta area” and emphasizes “balanced growth, a mix of architectural styles, sustainability and land preservation.” For stormwater, they use vegetated strips instead of concrete spillways. They re-use graywater for irrigation. They have a big community vegetable garden.
Sweet! Go Serenbe! It’s all very positive and utopian, right?
So why does the place creep me out so much? Take a look at these photos from HGTV and see what I mean:
Problems with Serenbe:
1. There appear to be no human occupants. (Okay, okay I’m sure there are people living there. I just think it’s funny that the community bills itself as pedestrian-centric, but the only signs of humans in the HGTV pictures are their cars.)
2. The name “Serenbe” comes from a fusion of the words “serenity” and “be”. Gag me.
3. It looks like the fantasy community of say, Ed Begley, Jr., instead of a real community. It looks like Disney’s version of sustainability. It kinda looks like the Hollywood set for “Little House on the Prairie.” Phony, ersatz, precious.
4. Serenbe’s master plan is based on “English hamlets and villages.” Since when does being “sustainable” mean being completely hokey? I am an American! I refuse to live in a hamlet! (Though the look they really seem to have achieved is some sorta midwestern frontier town.)
Anyway, it gets weirder. One part of Serenbe called “The Grange” will soon feature: a “blacksmith’s shop, a glass-blowing studio, weaving center, feed store, tack store, and farm grocer.”
I guess if you’ve always wanted to work as an actor in Colonial Williamsburg, this community is for you. But what sort of bizarre economy is this place going to have? Will there be an Arby’s? A 7-11?
5. It looks too perfect and homogenous. Okay, I know I’m just being mean to this poor little town that’s just trying to do the right thing. But seeing these photos made me realize that — just as with people — part of the charm of a community comes from its flaws. Just like I don’t want to be married to a Stepford-type spouse, I don’t want my town to be too perfect and predictable. A bit of litter here and there, some dodgy businesses, the odd loiterer on the street corner, it all contributes to a community’s character.
6. Too many rules (probably).
But I’m guessing (because I couldn’t find out for sure) that the restrictions on what you can do with your property in Serenbe are pretty fierce. What if I did want to plant a bit of lawn? What if I wanted to park my giant boat on the street and cover it with a blue tarp? I’m guessing Serenbe would have a big problem with me if I did either one. I prefer to live in a community where those things are totally allowed and neighbors’ only recourse is to bitch incessantly about it and shoot dirty looks rather than call the HOA.
7. Who’s being helped by these efforts? My final thought about Serenbe involves the rather difficult issue of environmental justice. In its intro to Serenbe, HGTV’s site tells the story of a family that moved from a wealthy neighborhood in Atlanta out to a 60-acre farm in the countryside. This family, who now runs the farm as a B&B, was instrumental in creating the community of Serenbe. Apparently, they were alarmed when the area around their farm was threatened by “encroaching development” so they joined with some partners, bought up land, and established an area of 40,000 acres (in which Serenbe resides), 70% of which is protected from development.
Okay, so moving from the city to a huge farmstead sounds great, I’m all for it. And I know the idea of Serenbe was to create this agrarian-type community that wasn’t just another big splotch of urban sprawl.
But it just seems inappropriate to wave the sustainability flag with too much enthusiasm when there are so many people living next to sewage plants, so many toxic dumps sited in minority neighborhoods, so many kids who don’t have safe parks to play in…..and you’re boasting about buying up all this land so you don’t have to look at an unsightly strip mall?
Am I being too hard on Serenbe? Has anybody actually been there?