Norman Neighborhood Experiments With Green Options

Monday, February 29th 2016, 10:56 pm
By: Grant Hermes

Past Ga Zump Drive on Red Fish Drive is a neighborhood where the streets are alive. From the pages of a story book, a real world test, which has developers in north Norman hoping for the best.

The test takes place in the Trailwoods development just off Rock Creek Road in Norman. It's a project started six years ago, when Richard McKown borrowed an idea from a conference in Maryland, but he had no idea it would earn him the nickname, the Lorax of Norman.

“If we keep doing things the way we've always done them as an industry, at some point you look up and you're like, 'wow … we've squandered our resources,'” McKown said.

McKown helps run his family’s home building business Ideal Homes.

The experiment is simple. Ideal Homes took an ordinary neighborhood and split it in half. On one side, the houses were built as conventional homes; on the other, they worked in innovation from the ground up.

“What we have going on here is basically a series of filtration gardens that catch the run-off from the roof tops and the yard,” McKown said walking along the experimental neighborhood.

The gardens are made of layers of soil, clay and drainage lines. The gardens are designed to divert water to plants, trees and sterile filters to remove some of the most dangerous chemicals that end up in our water.

“The first quarter inch of rain comes along and it takes all that stuff, these microscopic pollutants in our water system, then it also picks up all the extra phosphorus and nitrogen that has been put on the landscape and it just washes it in most cases onto the concrete where it picks up more of those heavy metal solids and then washes right down the gutter and right into our creeks and streams and lakes where we get our drinking water,” McKown said motioning to a house on the green side of the neighborhood.

The experiment was being co-run by University of Oklahoma grad students and partially funded by a federal grant given to the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, which hopes this neighborhood will serve as an example.

 “The neighbors have really latched on to this project. We think it can really go statewide,” Judith Wilkins with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission said.

And McKown's eye is also on the future, but it's the future of his bottom line. Green options are important to millennials and the gardens could save on land use he said.

“It's totally a business decision! But it's long-term thinking,” McKown said with a laugh after being asked about his motives.

The gardens add about $10,000 to the cost of an Ideal Home for the company. But with a little more work, McKown is confident they'll get it right for generations to come.

“We think this could become, should become standard development practice,” he said.