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"You're a Human Being" (and Other Reasons to Move to Serenbe)

Posted Aug 10 2013 8:56am
So we traipsed through the woods between the hamlet of Selborne and the Inn at Serenbe and fell upon a seemingly-endless butterfly-speckled, cricket-crowded wildflower meadow, its straw-colored grasses undulating elegantly in the welcome breeze on this rare blue-skied day during our summer of rain. 

Punctuated around the meadow were a painted old school bus, a teepee, a canteen, a traditional Southern bottle tree with an American flag draped over it, and towering scaffolding framing a smattering of seats. We had stumbled upon the set of the musical, Hair, at the no-walls-as-limitations Serenbe Playhouse in a nationally-awarded conservation community just south of Atlanta named Serenbe. You can see the gorgeous website for the community here . Just be warned that simply viewing the website may create an extraordinary desire to move. In fact, proceed with caution with this blog post.

I had been to Serenbe before with my husband and daughters.  Nine years ago, Farmer D (who is moving to California in less than a month, by the way) started the farm that served as one of the first amenities of this master-planned community centered on sustainable practices, and we had come to see it. My older daughter and I had been there for an "organic bike fest" once (immortalized in this post about the unicyclist, Crazy Dave , we met that day), and we had all been back another time to check on how the community had developed and had eaten at the adorable, exposed-brick-wall bakeshop/lunch joint named The Blue-Eyed Daisy.  (See Conservation-Minded Growth that Knocked My Socks Off .) That was the summer my daughters and I were doing a study of labyrinths in history and around the metro-Atlanta area, and Serenbe has what we all agree is the best of the bunch. (See my article with six steps for how you can Amaze Neighbors with Your Own Labyrinth .)

I'd been following Serenbe closely the last couple of years. The HGTV Green Home from 2012 is located there, and I gave it a shout-out in the blog I was hired to write for Cox Enterprise's I wrote about its status as a conservation community for Southface* when I was hired to write about all kinds of innovative sustainability projects around the United States. (Here's what I wrote about the HGTV Green Home 2011 , which is in Denver, if you are interested.)

Around that time, Serenbe broke ground on a new hamlet called Grange, featuring small cottages in a section named the Nest , which overlooks the organic farm. (See my article titled How to Make Your Farm Fantasy Come True, Stylishly ). This entire section of the community will focus around agricultural elements. The pull to possibly live in Serenbe got stronger, as it is located only 20 minutes or so from Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport, and I could imagine traveling the world to write (like when I recently went to Portugal with the Cork Forest Conservation Alliance ) and coming home here. Plus, as my girls head off to colleges and beyond, I could imagine them bringing their friends and families back here to walk on the 10-miles of trails that connect everything, ride bikes and horses, eat out at excellent farm-to-table restaurants, enjoy truly innovative arts performances, and have easy access to Atlanta and the world. My husband's stressful downtown Atlanta job could suddenly feel less so if he could come home somewhere that's on such a human scale.  

And so it was that a real estate agent named Raina Newell popped us all on a golf cart and took us touring around the entire 1,000-acre community (including inside numerous homes). You can't deny the physical beauty of the place. Serenbe's layout is designed with sacred geometry in mind, and although I don't know much about that, it simply feels right; it flows. The native plants everywhere means you don't see manicured lawns or landscape companies mowing and blowing. The variety of flora and fauna extends to the variety of housing styles and sizes as well--from live/work lofts to East Hampton-like white-picket-fence cottages to stately Victorians to modern contemporaries, and from 900-square feet to thousands.  

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The benefits to living anywhere in Serenbe (which has about 400 homes right now but will eventually cap out at about 1,000**) are extensive, but it is that Grange area that stuck in my heart. There is a lovely general market, a new restaurant is coming, and of course, I can see myself on that farm.  It has almost a beach-town vibe to it, if you can imagine. It is the section in which the community chose to locate its first school--a Montesorri model. It's also where you'll find one of the most fun and simple public park elements I've seen anywhere--an in-ground trampoline. Simply brilliant, and helps explain why I saw this sign nearby.

I could say it was hard to identify which was our favorite house in Serenbe, but it wasn't. It was this one (in the Grange neighborhood). Clearly. All four members of my family fell in love with many things inside and outside this home. If you told me I won this house and was moving in tomorrow, you would see a trail of dust behind me so fast you wouldn't know what happened. This is a model net-zero-energy home featured on this website, Proud Green Home . It is open for tours at Serenbe August 16-17. If you buy it, please invite me to visit.  Often. 

Yes, I love Serenbe. I do, however, wonder about Groupthink and diversity in general. And would moving to Serenbe be simply moving from one homeowners association with an extensive list of rules to another, even though I agree with the principles? Or perhaps it would be like my younger daughter suggested (after we had an outrageously amazing dinner featuring straight-from-the-farm ingredients at The Hil). That it would be like her going to an arts-themed school where everyone agrees the arts are important so that doesn't need to be a debate anymore and folks can just get on with it. Time is a non-renewable resource. Why waste it trying to talk people into things that just make sense?

Here are the facts. In the worst economy since the Great Depression, in one of the hardest hit cities in the nation for real estate, The Nest at Serenbe has completely sold out since it was announced about two years ago. The only way in now is through a resale (or choosing a different part of Serenbe--groundbreaking continues). Raina told me at least 50% of sales come from around the country, often from sustainability-minded "states of mind" such as those found in California and Colorado.  Raina also said that many people find out about Serenbe when they are researching what CSA (farm box share) they are going to join when they move, and Serenbe comes up in their search results. These are moneyed, educated professionals of all ages (Serenbe is about to build an assisted-living property in a new section of the community that will focus specifically on health and wellness amenities) and this is what they are increasingly choosing. Duly noted.

Serenbe versus the Atlanta Beltline versus the five-year-old city where I currently live versus New York City versus the world .  Only time will tell what we choose long-term.

No matter where you live on our FoodShed Planet, you can get to Serenbe easily by way of Atlanta's international airport (and that new international terminal boasts recycling bins and free filtered water dispensers--these are big steps forward for Atlanta). And then ask for Raina (or email her here ). Tell her I sent you.
As for the best reason to live in Serenbe? The bus from Hair said it best.  You're a human being. And this place is good for humans.

* Here's a snippet of what I wrote for a case study about charrettes, featuring Serenbe

Project Overview
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, in metro Atlanta, is one of the busiest in the world, but you’d think you were a world away a mere stone’s throw away in Chattahoochee Hill Country. Large landowners and prospective developers, who formed the Hill Country Alliance, knew what a treasure they had in their pastoral setting, not yet touched by sprawl. They also knew that they were part of the fastest growing region in the United States as part of the metropolitan Atlanta region, and that an eminent domain road expansion threatened to change this area in ways the community did not necessarily support. Just in time, they created a Comprehensive Land Use Plan to preserve greenspace while creating areas of concentrated, mixed-use, pedestrian-scale development that included civic amenities, a diversity of housing options, and even agriculture. 

After completing the Comprehensive Land Use Plan, the Alliance was awarded an Atlanta Regional Commission Livable Cities Initiative grant to develop a master plan for a model sustainable village within the Chattahoochee Hill Country.  A planning process pulled together key stakeholders to create a collaborative design solution that was not only marketable but also financially and technically feasible.

The centerpiece of this planning process involved the creation of three cross-functional teams of stakeholders challenged to go to town—literally—by designing their own versions of a Model Sustainable Village in just a few days. Think Best of Show won? No. That’s not the way this design collaboration (called a “charrette”) works. The charrette, which took place right at the site that would be the first sustainable village, enabled the final design (which included the best elements from all three preliminary plans) to gain broad support through immediate feedback loops and revisions. This resulted in a publicly-supported plan that could be fast-tracked to implementation with a high degree of community satisfaction.

Although there are a variety of ways to hold a charrette, the National Charrette Institute (NCI) offers a trademarked, proven three-step project management system that includes a phase for research, education and charrette preparation; a phase for the multi-day charrette itself, which results in a supported plan; and a phase for plan implementation. The NCI charrette process is designed to occur within a concentrated timeframe at or near the site in question, with tools and techniques developed for each phase to maximize charrette success.  

(This case study continued with a few pages of specifics.) Need a case study written about your sustainability project? Let's talk .

** The city in which Serenbe is located is guaranteed to remain 70% greenspace.

eclectic food-for-thought for a changing world
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