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A new ecological community, Rancho San Roque, is being developed in the foothills of the Rincon de la Vieja volcano in Costa Rica.  The developer has engaged the services of The Project Office (TPO) to manage the project; Deppat to create the master plan; and Zurcher Architects to create the architectural detail for a private residential community in harmony with nature.  Each of the 37 fully-titled lots available for purchase has at least 1.25-acres (5000M2) and incorporates sweeping views of the Guanacaste countryside, enjoying cool mountain air and rich volcanic soil.

Residents will enjoy the tranquility of country living with the convenience of modern services.  Located in Cañas Dulces – only 30 minutes from Liberia – where modern shopping, fine dining, and premium services are abundant.  The international airport in Liberia is just 40 minutes away, and some of Costa Rica’s best white-sand beaches and fishing are also an easy drive from the community.

Rancho San Roque is situated at a comfortable 1500 feet above sea level, offering fresh cool mountain breezes.  The area is host to a growing number of ecotourism facilities such as Buena Vista Adventure Center and Spa, which offers adventure sports such as canopy tours, rappelling, waterslides, horseback riding, hiking, thermal spa baths, and much more.  A high-end eco-resort, Borinquen Mountain Spa, showcases hot springs, a luxury hotel, restaurants, nature trails, and many more attractions within just minutes of the community.  The community is also located within minutes from the planned Guanacaste Country Club designed by Jack Nicklaus and being developed by a U.S. group that includes Frank Biden (Joe Biden’s brother).

“Most of the development in Guanacaste has happened at the beaches, but an increasing number of full-time expats find it to be too hot and too touristy,” said Dan Harris the CEO of The Project Office. “That is why we chose a tranquil country setting with a cooler climate for our community.  We’re in a laid-back rural area, yet still close to all modern services and amenities in Liberia.”

The city of Liberia is continually expanding with modern services.  Several banks, shopping centers and restaurants make up the town center along with the Home Depot-style hardware store called the Do It Center.  Large commercial developers are betting that Liberia becomes the business capital of northern Costa Rica, similar to the Central Valley, as evidenced by the million square-meter Solarium office industrial complex.  Furthermore, the best hospital in Central America, CIMA Hospital San Jose, has plans to build a new full-scale private hospital in Liberia.

Rancho San Roque will engage in a permaculture project to restore the pastureland, and will feature a community center with a pool and fitness center, walking trails through orchards, a greenhouse, organic gardens and aquaculture ponds.  The rich volcanic soil is perfect for gardening where the project aims to produce fresh organic vegetables, many fruit and nuts, fresh-water fish, chickens and eggs for the residents.

“Our goal is to restore the land with an edible forest and permaculture gardens producing healthy food security for residents” Harris added. “The intention of permaculture is not only to produce food, but also give immeasurable benefits to the environment while creating a beautiful and diverse landscape to enjoy.”

All environmental permitting is in place and all lots are ready to sell with clear title.  The developers are encouraging alternative energy such as wind and solar power, but are providing electric grid service in the community.  Satellite TV is readily available and high-speed Internet will be on site creating a fully connected community.

Each lot comes with a Costa Rica corporation allowing for clean transfers with low fees, and gives buyers a vehicle to obtain cell phones and other utilities.  The community is currently one of the best values in Costa Rica starting at $50,000 during the development phase. Financing is available with 40% down at 8% interest for 5 years ($20K down, $608/mth).




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by T. Caine

There are a number of encouraging examples of cities trying to slowly evolve themselves into a vision of urban sustainability.

Implementing bike infrastructure, upgrading the ecology of alternative transit, increasing recycling and addressing the state of our energy production systems are all noteworthy efforts being tackled by numerous cities around the world. But despite the show of goodwill, there are other examples that force one to wonder if we are simply taking two steps back for each that we take forward. The city of Dubai, rising in defiance to the surrounding environment of coastal deserts in the United Arab Emirates, stands as the hallmark of a digressing trend taking us farther away from the goals of a new cultural reality. As a poster child of modern ingenuity driven by the perpetual desire of humanity for unbounded excess, the city of Dubai casts a long shadow over our path to a greener future.

Originally sited for its coastal access to shipping trade, the city has exploded infinitely from its historical size. With the discovery of oil in the mid 1960’s money flooded into the region, beginning to fill coffers that could one day be leveraged to lift life and prosperity out of the sands. Over the past quarter-century Dubai has fashioned itself as a temple to the unusual feats of how nature can be bested by humanity. Islands can be coaxed to rise from the sea. Mountains of snow can sit amidst lashing heat. The world’s tallest tower can sit in the sand and be visible for miles around.While the city lacks a Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center or its own Universal Studios, make no mistake–the creation is just another Disneyland, an attraction meant to draw people from around the world to be awed and impressed at the surreal.


Prone to sudden, heavy rains, sandstorms and hot, arid temperatures, the surrounding landscape has provided no shortage of reasons for why not to build a city in the desert, but the gait of the government-funded movement has been unfettered. The fact that sand is not the ideal medium for siting high-rise development did nothing to temper the race to build a current estimated stock of 43.6 million square feet of office space. One thing that natural ecosystems and capitalism have in common is a concept of supply and demand, equalizing forces that help balance population or production. Dubai, however, seemed to ignore such indicators given that according to Jones Lang LeSalle, the current vacancy rate for its commercial space is near 33%–a number that could rise as high as 65% with the new construction projects already in the pipeline. For comparison, the vacancy rate for office space in New York City was 11.1% in January and falling.

Of course, the crown jewel of Dubai’s high rise bonanza is Burj Khalifa, formerly known as the Burj Dubai and designed by architecture firm Skidmore Owings and Merrill. Towering 2,625 feet into the air, the building boasts the title of the tallest structure in the world. Amongst the 160 floors is a combination of residences, commercial office space, an observation deck and the Armani Hotel. Undeniably, the building is a testament to the capabilities of engineering. Getting glass and steel to stand a half-mile into the air in the middle of the desert is no easy task, one accomplished by using 110,000 tonnes of concrete to pour 192 piles that descend 540′ below the surface. Given the height of the building and high temperatures during the day, the pumping and pouring of the higher concrete floors was done at night where the curing process could be more gradual to avoid cracking and subsequent future instability. All impressive achievements, but necessary?

And yet within months of opening, the observation deck at the tower has already been closed to tourists indefinitely while precise reasons for the closure were unspecified. I found one tourist’s disappointment rather ironic. “It was the one thing I really wanted to see. The tower was projected as a metaphor for Dubai. So the metaphor should work. There are no excuses.’’ On the contrary, I think that the fact that the tower is a metaphor for Dubai is exactly why it does not work. It is a city destined to be punished for its misguided battle against an inexhaustible force: nature.


dubai villaA picture of water conservation

Unsurprisingly, there is not enough natural water to supply a city of over 2 million people in the desert. Instead taking such an impediment as cause for consideration, the city looked to the oceans. As of 2007, the city had a desalination capacity of 188 million gallons per day. Ocean desalination is a fleeting attempt at cheating the climate, requiring enormous amounts of energy. In her essay featured on The Oil Drum, former Mayor of Huntington Beach, CA, Deborah Cook notes that “The next worst idea to turning tar sands into synthetic crude is turning ocean water into municipal drinking water. Sounds great until you zoom in on the environmental costs and energetic consequences…There is no more energy intensive water source than ocean desalination.” It is important to note that Dubai residents are not exactly the image of conservation. With their swimming pools, fountains and lush green lawns, the emirate used 10% more water than the average American (formerly the largest consumer in the world) and six times more per capita than nearby Jordan as of 2009. Hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil and gas will be used to power these efforts in the years to come.

The World Wonders of Excess:

And then there are the islands. Oh, the islands. Construction began on the Palm Jumeirah island in June 2001. 94 million cubic meters of sands, 7 million tonnes of rock and $12 billion later, we have artificial islands in the shape of a palm tree. Eventually the island will be joined by the finished likenesses of Palm Deira and Palm Jebel Ali. At this point, Dubai World would not have to worry about being outdone by foreign endeavors (who else would build islands in the middle of the ocean) so they had to resort to trumping themselves. Started in 2003, the 300 world islands have risen from the waters only to halt in construction as Dubai developer Nahkeel recoils from $26 billion in debt.We can only hope it is never repaid.

world and palm islandsEach of these islands requires the dredging of the ocean floor to lift sand up onto its new home. The damage to the aquatic ecosystems in the form of waste, pollution and noise must be far-reaching. Not to mention we have already seen what can happen when people decide to build a city on a Louisiana swamp lying somewhere in the vicinity of sea-level. While the coast of Dubai may not be in a prime path for hurricanes, creating a series of islands against the natural correlation of water movement in the middle of the ocean is destined to have future problems of maintenance and structural issues. We are in a world where regardless of the fact that island nations are at risk of being eradicated due to rising sea levels, oil funds are put towards building new islands in the water.

Perhaps the only thing that can trump the world’s tallest tower and man-made islands is Ski Dubai, an interior ski resort fashioned right in the middle of the desert. The experience comes equipped with multiple trails, life-like snow, chair lifts and temperatures of -5 degrees Celsius. Once again, the structure is architecturally impressive due to the level of engineering required to keep snow from melting with outside temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius (that’s 122 degrees Fahrenheit.) The wall is actually a double-skin construction with two high-insulating layers separated by an air-gap that serves as a buffer for heat transmission. In theory the system is similar to a double-skin glass curtain wall like the one in One Bryant Park that faces the New York Public Library and holds small interior gardens. Nevertheless, it should have been enough to know that such a feat could be accomplished. There is no pride to be taken from achieving a luxury at a limitless cost of energy and resources.

As an oasis of extravagance built as a tourist trap, Dubai is a frightening reality. There is no better urban example of disregard to the environment as it resets the limit of how far from rational evolution we will travel before we decide to turn around and retrace our steps. This is not the example we should be setting for developing nations who may soon encounter the ability to craft their own cities in the landscape. I find any mention of “sustainability” linked to this city insulting and degrading. Such efforts are beyond simply “greenwashing,” but rather dipping a project in a vat of green tinted resin before dumping the waste into a landfill built over an aquifer.

But we can travel up 160 floors on elevators going 25mph to look out over a series of islands completed fabricated by humans! Aren’t you impressed? Quite simply, no. I already have the utmost of confidence in humanity’s abilities in science and technology without wasting $4 billion to make a giant spire in the desert. Perhaps there is a silver lining yet. Dubai’s very existence epitomizes the opposite of sustainability. Its logical course is destined for failure with 25% of its economy based on property and construction–a service that is limited and threatened by rising vacancies and a world recession. Such an urban downfall may help hit home the concept of such hollow endeavors and help justify the efforts of local cities to distance themselves away from new urban theme parks. Maybe the loss of billions of dollars in investment capital may help lenders not make the same mistake again when some group of innovators decide they want to build a resort at the bottom of the ocean or open golf course on the slopes of a volcano or plant a massive orange grove on the peaks of the French Alps.

Photo Credits: laughingsquid.com, kiwipulse.com


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In 2005 it was reported that over half of our 6.9 billion people live on less than $2 per day, and I can find no reference since that report to indicate any improvement. Food, shelter, and clean water are but a dream for people trying to survive in unimaginable squalor. Feeding half the population of the planet has been the talking point of politicians, and a legitimate mission for well-meaning organizations for decades. There is finally a ray of hope that indicates a turnaround.

Starting in the 1960s there was a “Green Revolution” which had as its aim strictly to increase crop yields, often employing non-sustainable techniques such as expensive fossil fuel-driven farm equipment, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides. The movement was hailed as a success, but in recent years has been revealed as well-intentioned, but short-term in its thinking; nutritional quality and soil quality suffered. Further, the very poorest were not rewarded with true food security as supply eventually depleted, and economic opportunity was presented only to those with enough money to participate at an industrial level.

An Organic Revolution is now taking hold in the Third World that offers a shining example of how more affordable, accessible, and long-term considerations can generate true hope for prosperity and transform our planet’s most blighted locations to places of opportunity and self-sufficiency.

North Americans and Europeans might think of an Organic Revolution strictly in terms of having a better choice of healthy, chemical-free selections at their local supermarket (at higher prices). However, in terms of farming, an Organic Revolution has huge implications on both an individual and global scale, truly fitting the definition as a “sudden, radical, and fundamental change.” Organic farming has now been studied sufficiently enough to conclude that there are significant improvements in yield data, soil integrity, CO2 sequestration, waterway cleansing, and long-term economic returns to farmers, as well as the production of crops which are more drought, flood, and climate change resistant.

In Ethiopia, long the most starving nation on Earth, the government has been working with farmers to gain better knowledge of how elements within local ecosystems can provide the balance necessary to grow organic produce without the reliance on expensive and destructive synthetic chemicals. The results have been staggering: 165 districts have reported that poverty has been alleviated, soil quality has improved, and economic opportunities are being discussed instead of sheer survival. Similar findings have been reported by The United Nations Environmental Program among 114 projects in 24 African countries.

For those of us in the First World, the Organic Revolution in the Third World will help to alleviate the economic stress of virtually non-functioning “aid packages” and empty platitudes which serve only to convince the world that something is being done, as the situation grows demonstrably worse. Most importantly, this is a local endeavor that can be undertaken in any community, nearly anywhere on the planet. This reinforces the strength and Independence of local communities while providing people with organic fruits and vegetables that are 25% higher in key nutrients and antioxidants.

Food security, human health, and economic prosperity are the goal of every individual and nation. We can all take part in this Organic Revolution and begin the process of healing ourselves individually and globally.

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Are you or your business authentically Green? There is an ugly side of the Green Revolution that is not helpful for growing the movement, eco-elitism.  Many folks in sustainable lifestyles or green businesses may act as if they are better, or more authentic, than a newbie.  This display of eco-elitism must end if environmentalists hope to encourage ideas to become action.

Given the urgency of the crisis, I understand there is an urge to say “I told you so” to people who finally get it. However, we must offer as much support and knowledge to that person as possible without being overly critical.  We should be proud of getting our family and friends to recycle, or any small step towards a greener lifestyle.
At the same time there are many companies seeking to benefit from “acting” green to capitalize on growing customer awareness. Even this “green washing” should be encouraged, but they should know that customers recognize authenticity when they see it. We, customers, must demand authenticity if we expect to get it. But we must also reward businesses and individuals for every positive sustainable step they take.
For example, we should applaud Walmart for greening their stores, but we should also point out that many of their practices are not sustainable. They support slave labor in foreign countries and do not provide a living wage to employees in America. Clearly, these unsustainable practices should be corrected before we can call them authentically sustainable.
In a highly competitive world, our first instinct is to diminish before we praise. We must be aware that the movement is too important for pettiness, but also too important for frauds. Finding a balance of critique and praise will be much better for the green movement than a divide and conquer mentality.

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It would seem simple to conclude that all businesses want to grow, increase their value, and provide lasting returns for their investors.  Sadly, the global financial crisis has highlighted a level of corporate greed that seems to work in reverse to the obvious logic.

Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) is quickly gaining momentum among investors who have become fed up with businesses that are providing outrageous executive compensation, showing blatant disregard for environmental concerns, and also those which are turning a blind eye to many human rights abuses taking a place in the name of “profit.”

The worldwide financial crisis has actually been a boon for ethical investing.  As more and more people look around and see a traditional system that is failing to provide sustainable economic growth, more people are seeking solutions.  This, coupled with the growing empathy for the financial plight of people who never could have imagined they would find themselves in the current situation, is shining a light directly on the importance of community connections.  It is not surprising, then, to find that Socially Responsible Investing is far outpacing other sectors of the economy, with reports showing an 18% surge from 2005 to 2007.  All trends indicate that new reports will reveal even larger increases over the period 2007-2009.

The beauty of SRI is that it is both local and global.  One might invest in a local community organization and contribute money as well as time, or one can invest in socially conscious mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETF) which provide wide exposure to multiple companies across many sectors.  Both offer ways for people to feel good about the profits they make, and to know that the growth of the businesses they support will enhance the well being of the planet — physically and socially.

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