It Takes A Village

Green builder Dan Antonioli spent his early childhood in Marin, then moved to a remote Nevada homestead. Later, he returned to the Bay Area to go to college and work for his father’s construction company. Though he became a general contractor, he didn’t like much about the world of construction, describing it as “a lion’s den”; he was dismayed by the waste of resources and by the toxins common to most conventional building. When Antonioli began to examine what he disliked, he realized he could use his experience and skills to create something he cared about intensely—ecovillages, or sustainable living in community

Antonioli showed up in Oakland at the right moment, just as the dot-com bubble burst. The city was diverse, progressive—and affordable. On a shoestring budget, Antonioli bought a large older building next to the Grove-Shafter freeway, known colloquially as “611” (611 32nd Street). The location has inspired as well as sometimes confounded him: creating an ecovillage in an area plagued by poverty and drug use adds special considerations to an already transformative process.

In July 2004, his vision expanded with the purchase of a ten-acre property in Mendocino County that includes an old farmhouse, barn, and storage buildings. In just a few years, Antonioli managed to create the potential for two intentional communities—one urban and centered on restoration; the other rural and devoted to ground-up sustainability.

611 is divided into two houses, the Main House and the Carriage House, with six residents including Antonioli. As we walk around the space, I can see the care and attention that has gone into creating this small-scale ecovillage. There is a solar system, a beehive in the roof garden, and a graywater system in the central courtyard that uses hyacinths to break down detergents. The paint is low VOC, and the wood is reclaimed, salvaged, or from certified origins.

“Restoration is a form of green building,” Antonioli says—and the evidence is all around. When I visited, he was about to move into his office downstairs, with its newly exposed brick, earth, and wood elements. “My goal is to use zero energy,” he says. “We’ll generate 100 percent of what we consume.” As replacing hot water, heating, and electric systems is expensive, Antonioli is designing around the upgrades, so when the day comes for installation, “we can plug and play.”

The Mendocino project, in the town of Laytonville, is a work in progress. For 2006, Antonioli hopes to construct outdoor kitchens, install a composting toilet, and subdivide the land into five two-acre parcels. The site is only a mile away from town proper, as Antonioli wanted his rural ecovillage to be visible in the community. As residents take over each of the five planned houses, they will formulate a set of agreements and share a solar system, gardens, and livestock.

Finding a balance between the shared resources and privacy is challenging at both Laytonville and 611, but it is a model Antonioli believes will spread. The relationship between the two properties is not spelled out; Antonioli says he is just interested in creating sustainable communities as both housing and example.

“We have everything we need right now to be running this country on renewable energy.” Antonioli says. “We don’t need nuclear power plants. We don’t need to go to Iraq. This is all common sense and practical.”

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