Sustainability and renewable energy sources are becoming hot topics as world leaders become more mindful of where we are getting our resources. Many governing bodies on national, state or city levels have taken initiatives to encourage the use of more sustainable natural resources, but none have achieved that goal completely—until now. Babcock Ranch, located in southwest Florida, is the world’s first solar-powered town. Its founders plan on making it the “world’s most sustainable city,” and it is well on its way. The planned community intends to even contribute its excess energy produced to nearby towns. Babcock Ranch is and will be a community not only about sustainable resources but also about a completely new way of life.
The History of Babcock Ranch
The Babcock Ranch, along with the Babcock Preserve, is located on land near Fort Meyers, FL. The land stretches over both parts of Lee County and Charlotte County, FL. It is named after its owner from 1914 to the 1990’s, Edward Vose Babcock, former mayor of Pittsburg. Under his ownership, the area was used mostly for agriculture and logging, which were lucrative enough to generate funds to maintain the preserve. The state of Florida had an interest in purchasing the land in order to preserve its expansive stretch of rich Florida ecosystems. After dealing with several obstacles, the state of Florida and Lee County purchased the over 74,000 acre Babcock Preserve land in summer of 2006.
Planning the Ranch
After the purchase, the public of bordering Charlotte County helped to create plans for the development of Babcock Ranch. The Ranch was designed with the vision of being a completely sustainable city. It intends to attract scientists and researchers to study clean energy sources, as well as other high-tech, focused businesses. Within its four villages and five hamlets, the community expects to build around 19,000 homes as well as a downtown area and other miscellaneous space. Babcock Ranch will be part of the Charlotte County Public School District, and each village will have its own schools, an elementary and a high school. In addition to these public K-12 schools, Florida Gulf Coast University also will construct a campus in the Ranch. All buildings, including schools and other businesses, will be obligated to comply with Florida green building standards in order to be built and operate in the community.
Most cities in the world rely on electricity from a means of burning limited fossil fuels like oil. Not only do those practices take away valuable resources from our Earth, but they also cost residents and businesses quite a bit of money for their use. Those resources are so expensive because they are limited—fossil fuels take millions of years to form, and once we use them, they will not replenish themselves for a very long time. Solar energy, however, is one solution to the energy problem. Using solar energy, or energy harnessed from the sun, is considered a clean energy practice because it can be done over and over without causing harm to the environment. It is also much cheaper since it does not have to be mined and there is no worry it will run out.
Babcock Ranch, a “solar city,” will be the first of its kind in the world—all residents and businesses will rely on solar energy alone. The ranch will have an onsite solar energy plant, or photovoltaic array, which will be over twice the size of any existing solar energy plant on the planet. Energy will be harnessed from solar panels both on the roofs of commercial buildings as well as in other open spaces. The energy system of Babcock Ranch will be interconnected with the main power grid of the state. It expects to produce more energy than it consumes, and will, therefore, be exporting some of that extra power free of cost. On days that the sun is not as strong, it will import power from the main power grid. Homes in Babcock Ranch will be designed to be compatible with the solar energy sources. Different “smart” technologies will exist both in residential and commercial buildings. Homeowners and businesses will be able to, and encouraged, to monitor their energy consumption to ensure they are following responsible guidelines related to energy use. Babcock Ranch will be a truly green, self-sustaining city.
Construction of the ranch and its various homes, businesses, civic spaces, and power plant is already under way, and over 1000 residents will be occupying homes by the end of 2017. Eventually, it is planned that over 50,000 residents will be able to live in Babcock Ranch, and the energy production, commerce, schools, and other community efforts will support the entire ranch.
Babcock Ranch Lifestyle
Babcock Ranch will not be an ordinary planned city like some “green” cities or other planned communities. Living there will be a complete lifestyle change for the better. The ranch is planned around the area’s ecosystem, making it truly eco-centric. Whether you are a resident there or just visiting, you can see this effortless lifestyle change everywhere from the businesses to the park to the public spaces.
Perhaps the center of activity and community in the ranch is Founder’s Square. Here is where most special events, celebrations, concerts, and other public meetings will take place. It is planned to lay just south of Lake Babcock. The rest of the ranch will expand southward as it continues to grow. Founders Square will include a beautiful boardwalk along the lake where residents or visitors can go for a quiet retreat along the water. The downtown area and center of commerce will lie just south of Founders Square.
The houses themselves in each residential area are expected to begin at a price point of $300,000 but will expand higher and lower to include a more diverse demographic as time goes on. A variety of homes will be available, all conforming to green standards and utilizing smart technology that will be compatible with the solar energy they are provided.
Babcock Ranch, Florida
Tech companies will be welcome and encouraged at Babcock Ranch. That does not mean that everyone will be indoors all day working on projects. The Ranch will encourage a healthy balance of quality work and outdoor time and will offer plenty of options to enjoy nature and get outside. Lake Babcock is an incredible focal point for the local ecosystem and will offer water sports like canoeing, kayaking, and paddle boards to soak it all in. The lake is clean and abounding with many local fish—residents are encouraged to go fishing along its shores. A fishing dock is also located just down from the boardwalk on Sunset Trail.
Outside of the central area of Founders Square, outdoor enthusiasts will have access to over 50 miles of beautiful, scenic trails. Currently, over 5 miles of trail have been completed, and are open to pedestrians or bicycles. For those with pets, the ranch houses a state of the art dog park where dogs can get their exercise in.
In addition to the sustainable solar energy used to power Babcock Ranch, the community will have an abundance of garden space for residents to grow their own small crops. The restaurant of Babcock Ranch will also operate using only fresh produce grown right there in the community. Neighborhoods will each have central community gardens where anyone can come and grow vegetables, fruits, herbs, and more to encourage the earth-friendly practice of producing one’s own food to eat. With the combination of ready, open space for gardening and a restaurant that follows such practices, making the switch to farm-to-table becomes effortless.
Babcock Ranch will not only be a place for sustainable community practices like gardening, solar energy, and walking instead of driving but will be a place where personal wellness is also encouraged. Fitness classes are already scheduled on a daily basis, both for the entire community at Founder’s Square and in each individual neighborhood. With a huge variety of classes, from yoga to running to boot camp, anyone can find a class that is right for them.
Babcock Ranch will truly be the first of its kind, but it is a change for the better. Once up and running, it will be a community that is not only reducing our carbon footprint but reducing it. In years to come, it will serve as a model for other communities that wish to follow in its footsteps and work toward building a community on a worldwide level that seeks to live sustainably and responsibly.