Friday, October 5, 2007

Buying In

How We Went From Renting to Owning in Green Acres
By Kevin Polk

When Kimberly and I started visiting homes for sale in Bloomington two years ago, we looked briefly at Green Acres. We liked the idea of living within walking distance to IU and a short bicycle ride from the library, the farmer's market and downtown. We also liked the schools that served the neighborhood.

However, we didn't like the noisy rentals or the IU traffic that cut the heart of Green Acres into a harrowing warren of speedways twice a day. We saw a few clumps of houses that still looked settled and inviting to families. But they all lay practically on top of the Bypass. So our search soon turned elsewhere.

We were both ready to set down roots. We had lived in eight states. We had become experts at holding garage sales, packing, shipping and postal regulations. Now we wanted to plant a garden and raise pets and children. We wanted anything but a sterile, anonymous apartment life.

In the spring of 2006, I completed a permaculture course. For a final project, I worked with Green Acres residents Ann Kreilkamp and Sylvia Van Bruggen to establish a neighborhood plan. Their enthusiasm was infectious, so we looked into the neighborhood again. When we realized we weren't quite ready to buy, a nice rental turned up on 8th street.

Our year on 8th street went much better than our time in various commuter apartments. Kimberly enjoyed her daily walks to IU through all four seasons. I took the GOES and Habitat Stewards courses and kept a low profile with my sustainable gardening activities at first. But I eventually observed that among the five houses on the block, there were already four organic gardens, an orchard, two or three compost piles, two backyard wildlife habitats, a greenhouse and a passive solar home. Neighbors started turning up at permaculture events.

As we became involved with GANA events and the Neighborhood Plan, it gradually dawned on us what a gem this place was. Residents of four and five decades missed the days when children playing in the streets and yards bound the community together. These elders especially seemed to appreciate efforts to recapture a lost sense of place through neighborhood events, signs, rain gardens and traffic calming. Since many had seen so much of the world used up in their lifetimes, they also encouraged all efforts to make Green Acres a sustainable village. Our landlords seemed delighted with our straw mulches, native plantings, leaf mold bins and tiny vegetable plot, having done plenty of organic gardening when they lived on the property long ago.

When we began to look for a house in spring of 2007, we focused on Green Acres. Yes, it was noisy and carved by traffic. But young families were starting to move in. The neighborhood plan was complete and GANA was full of energy. We looked beyond what the neighborhood was, to what it was becoming again.

We finally bought a house on Edwards Row. In July, while hauling boxes and furniture, we realized that this was our first move to a place where we already knew people. One of Kimberly's colleagues had lived in our house for 28 years. Our neighbor Stan two doors up told us about seeing our house built fifty years ago, on an open field at the edge of town.

The house has plenty of yard space and an unshaded south-facing roof. We've begun a program of energy upgrades which we hope will culminate in geothermal heating and cooling and solar panels on the roof. The neighboring yards sport plenty of native and edible plants. We have begun planting trees, flowers and salad greens in the yard. They seem to be setting down roots. So are we.

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