5 Tips to Create a Green Neighborhood

After you get your green affairs in order, help your neighbors create a healthy, resource-conserving community everyone can enjoy.

Look online for lists of community garden spaces if you're interested in growing but don't have your own space. Image: Chris Clinton/Getty Images

Around the country, loosely organized alliances of green-leaning friends and eco-conscious neighbors are comparing notes and sharing resources. These resource-smart coalitions are forming carpools, splitting bulk purchases, and liberating vacant lots to plant community gardens.

So grab a clipboard at your next block party, collect e-mails, and Facebook each other about turning your neighborhood into a green community. Here are ideas to get you started.

Tip #1: Share your soil

Satisfy your eco-conscience and use your green thumb by tending a patch of neglected earth.

You can work a plot in an established community garden, although openings sometimes are scarce. Or you can join a match service that pairs gardens in need of tending with gardeners in need of soil.

Urban Garden Share matches property owners with would-be sharecroppers in several cities, including Seattle, Louisville, Atlanta, Boise, and Santa Cruz. These green shares are not limited only to soil and seeds. A Louisville beekeeper recently searched for a garden to host a beehive so her “girls” could have a productive season.

Tip #2: (Un)Forbidden fruits

Join a group that promotes the gleaning of fruit from neglected or overlooked urban fruit trees.

Fallen Fruit offers online maps showing locations of publicly accessible fruit trees in cities around the world. A map of a San Francisco neighborhood, for instance, shows where bananas, blueberries, and plums are ripe for the picking. The group also promotes “Public Fruit Jams,” canning parties to share the taste, savings, and hard work of preserving peaches, plums, blackberries, apricots, and other fruits.

Neighborhood Fruit lets you to type in your ZIP Code to pull up public fruit trees in your area. A recent search for McLean, Va., discovered public persimmon trees in nearby Rockville, Md.

Tip #3: Build a community coop

Don’t limit your sustainable food quest to fruits and vegetables. Neighbors in Seattle are building a community chicken coop. Organizer Elise Koncsek says the seven households involved expect to keep a dozen laying hens, and will share the labor, startup costs, and eggs.

Keen to follow their lead?

Start with just a couple families, and develop a plan for scale, location, building, and financing. Koncsek kept startup costs to $500 by relying on donations and reclaimed materials. Your egg-laying chickens, which can be ordered as chicks for about $2 apiece, require as much care as the family pet; though you’ll never get five eggs a week from your golden retriever.

Tip #4: Take the wheel

On average, U.S. car owners spend almost $900 per month financing, maintaining, and insuring a car. Considering most of us use a car for only a few hours a day—if that—car sharing with neighbors makes financial and ecological sense.

You can share cars with neighbors informally, or your can draw up contracts that state who drives the car when. Car insurance can be an obstacle, but a frank discussion with your agent should yield a solution.

Or, you can join one of the many car-sharing networks (such as Zipcar) that have more than 10,000 cars throughout North America. Cars are parked in lots throughout a city. And for an annual membership fee, typically around $50, and a per/hour cost of about $10, you can drive on demand.

The organization covers insurance (usually the state minimum) and gas.

Tip #5: Swap ‘til you drop

Swapping stuff, from clothes to tools to garden tomatoes, reduces the energy consumption that goes into developing and purchasing more stuff, says Debra Berliner, the climate action coordinator for Berkeley Ecology Center in Berkeley, Calif. Swapping also diverts waste from landfills, helping to create a more sustainable economy.

Arrange and attend neighborhood swap meets. It will cost you time: 10 to 12 hours to organize the swap. But purging your house of unwanted and unneeded stuff—and getting a great hammer free—is priceless.