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Davis, California

Friday, July 12, 2024

A Davis oasis: explore the sustainable design and innovative lifestyle found in the Village Homes community

The ecologically engineered neighborhood has helped pioneer environmentally conscious living in Davis


By REBEKA ZELJKO — features@theaggie.org


Village Homes is a 70-acre subdivision in Davis, California, designed by Mike and Judy Corbett in the 1970s, according to the Village Homes website. The completed development includes 225 homes and 20 apartment units, as well as 23 acres of orchards, vineyards, parks, greenbelts, common areas and edible landscape.

The amenities and the environmentally conscious design are what distinguish this community from others. Sue Colombano, the president of the Village Homes HOA Board and longtime resident, said the community was unique from its inception. 

“My husband and I got interested very early on in 1979 when it was still being designed and developed,” Colombano said. “We would bike over in west Davis and see the area, and it really appealed to us. We saw all the vineyards, the orchards, the open space, and we decided to buy a lot so we could build a home. We wanted to build it in an energy-conscious, resource-conserving way, and so [the] Village Homes were perfect.”

Village Homes harbors many unique design elements intended to coexist with the environment. According to the Village Homes website, the design utilized a feature called “passive solar,” where “all the streets tend east-west and all lots are oriented north-south,” helping the homes store and effectively utilize the sun’s energy to regulate temperature. 

Other features, such as the street width, were also thoughtfully implemented in the area. According to the Village Homes website, the streets’ “narrow widths minimize the amount of pavement to sun in the long, hot summers. The curving lines of the roads give them the look of village lanes, and the few cars that venture into the cul-de-sacs usually travel slowly.”

Key design aspects like these prioritize the quality of life of residents and the integration of the community’s natural surroundings, according to Colombano.

“It’s pretty innovative,” Colombano said. “It makes me reflect on how [Mike and Judy Corbett] were visionaries. You can see the conscious decision-making in the design. Like the common areas, they’re consciously not fenced in because there is an understanding that you do have a community.”

These unique amenities quickly caught the attention of other Davis residents. Josephine Andrews, a UC Davis professor and resident of Village Homes, said the landscaping design is valuable to her. 

“I think the landscaping is really, really appealing,” Andrews said. “The paths are designed to take you kind of everywhere you would want to go. And in the spring, it’s just so beautiful. It feels like you live in a huge garden.”

This garden-like feel is due to a feature residents call “edible landscaping.” According to the Village Homes website, there are more than 30 varieties of fruit and nut trees as well as vineyards planted all over the properties. As a result, there is something that is ready to be harvested and enjoyed by the community nearly every month of the year.

“The community really enjoys and takes advantage of the abundance of fruit available to us,” Andrews said. “You would think this sort of thing would be more common.”

Andrews said that one of the distinct features in Village Homes is the shared plot design, where small groups of homes share and upkeep the common area their houses all face. 

“Something I think I love the most is that there’s no fencing,” Andrews said. “We sit in our kitchen, and we can see through the windows all these people walking by, families, children, dogs; it’s so uplifting to see that; it just really warms you up. And in these common areas, you all have to agree if someone wants to make any changes to your yard, so you have a stake in that sort of beautiful area that everyone can enjoy.”

The emphasis on community and shared resources is important to the cohesion of Village Homes. 

“It’s an amazing place to live,” Andrews said. “It’s very safe, nobody drives fast, there aren’t many roads, and the kids can really just wander in this large space very safely. You know your neighbors, even if you don’t really like them, you really know them, and that’s very important.”

Just as crucial as the community aspect, the incorporation of nature and urban development into a cohesive community is a signature component to Village Homes. Stephen Wheeler, Ph.D., a UC Davis professor in the Department of Human Ecology and longtime resident of Village Homes, said this hybrid design is valuable in a residential area. 

“It’s about creatively integrating green and gray,” Wheeler said. “The development industry in this country does not have that creativity. It instead follows a formula, and I understand it if there’s a lot of money at stake, but we need to be more creative in the ways we live and build in our communities in order to bring meaning back into our lives.”

Wheeler said that Village Homes is exemplary of human value over monetary value, where the latter is typically prioritized. 

“It’s all about, ‘Let’s be modernist as fast as we can,’” Wheeler said. “But we need to look at the takeaway from things like the great resignation, with people leaving their corporate and service jobs that don’t have any element of humanity in them. So on all of these fronts, whether it be work or the physical environment, we need to get back to something that really expresses our humanness.”

Wheeler said that these aspects of “humanness” are now very sought after in living environments.

“The proof is in the economic value,” Wheeler said. “It was originally built for affordable housing, and it quickly became the most expensive housing per square foot in Davis. Architects were not paid to do these things historically, there was no incentive, but now there’s a growing desire for it.”

It’s this irreplicable quality in Village Homes that makes it so desirable to buyers and so enjoyable to residents. 

“This is a unique community,” Colombano said. “It doesn’t fit everyone’s lifestyle. If you want privacy or don’t value this kind of community emphasis, it’s not the place for you. But if you do value orchards, vineyards and open space like we do, this is the perfect place to live and raise children. I still feel lucky to live here.”

Written by: Rebeka Zeljko — features@theaggie.org