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G-Sync: Our big, bold bid to build the future


Last week, in part one of the feature on the Living Building Challenge bid of Matthew and Kristin Fowler, G-Sync reported the goals of the project. This week, Tommy Allen looks at how the West Michigan community is coming together to make it happen.
Though the groundbreaking Living Building Challenge (LBC) home being constructed on Logan St. SE began when the Fowler family had a dream, they've had plenty of help, too, from local firms who are offering them guidance in achieving their goal. The collaboration that's grown up around this small but innovative project is a great illustration of how creating something new can forge connections and strengthen the whole community. (Part one of the Living Building Challenge can be read here.)
 
Homes of Hope is a local agency that can be described as a newer nonprofit set up to solve unique or niche housing issues in our region. One program at Homes of Hope seeks to build and give a home to a veteran. They currently have two homes in construction, one in Grand Rapids and the other in a suburban community outside our city.
 
For the Fowlers, Homes of Hope is acting as the fiduciary for their fundraising efforts in completing this very unique mission of reaching their certification. As many who work in the area of grant making often privately share, it is a far better model to find an existing nonprofit to act in this role than to go through the process of setting up a new one. The Fowlers appear to understand this knowledge's power and have benefited as a result in their building community from the ground up efforts.
 
Another local firm well known within the green building community is the Alliance for Environmental Sustainability, who provides sustainable home consulting. They serve to educate those working with the small and the big (like our area's Habitat for Humanity chapter) and specialize in ensuring that affordable housing is healthy.
 
Alliance's ability to certify as a third party vendor has translated into weekly meetings with the Fowlers, who can ensure they meet these requirements as well as secure answers to their questions as they pursue this very stringent certification process from the Living Home Challenge (LHC) world headquarters.
 
Recently, the Fowlers shifted their focus from a total tear down to the foundation and moved into a partial tear down model. This, according to Alliance for Environmental Sustainability Executive Director Brett Little, offers a unique set of new and tougher challenges in their goal to become a zero energy home. But being able to reuse some of the existing structure according to Little will also give them an upper hand in other areas of their design.
 
Another group providing local assistance is The Elazar Group, owned by Matt's brother Curtis, who will be serving as the project's contractor to help with building and code matters as they appear -- and they are sure to come, as this type of home building is off the books as far as codes go, with new approaches to everything at almost every step of the way. 
 
Because they are blazing new trails and will be facing many code issues (as we all do when we attempt to do something different or fresh), the Fowlers will hopefully be pushing the city to consider new ways of doing things here for others who are sure to follow in the years and decades to come.  
 
Currently in British Columbia, Canada, and Washington, D.C., there are homes very close to certification, but this is not a deterrent to the Fowlers, who understand it is not a race to be the first but an invitation to be one of the many creating local case studies that will have regional impact for others in the future. The processes and firms that will gain endorsement via their techniques, product lines, or offering of raw materials will also become the first in our area to gain an unofficial seal of approval for contributing to a new building standard.
 
In the months ahead, I plan to keep in touch with Matt and Kristin to see how the project is progressing and write an update on their efforts. For a long time I worried about "outing" their intentions because with attention comes some risk.
 
But I am of the belief that folks who read Rapid Growth are the type of people who, when they hear of such a challenge as this project, should they have any professional expertise or advice (or even financial contribution), they will reveal themselves to be strong allies in helping us transform our community one act of kindness at a time towards a worthy goal. It is why this region is so beautiful to those who understand what a startup community can look like and how it will operate in the future.
 
Perhaps at my age I should be jaded, as are many around me. I can see firsthand just how easy it is to let this happen when you see a lot of good ideas appear and then go silent, never coming to fruition. But ideas like this one can keep all of us alive with the hope that radical community-originated transformation is still possible here.
 
I have really enjoyed each visit with Matt and Kristin. Each time I have observed them interact with their neighbors, friends, and volunteers, I've come away inspired by their authenticity of what compassionate care can do for a community. If they are successful in their mission, then we as a community will have another accomplishment to be proud of besides craft beer, farm-to-table eateries, and baked goods (which are awesome, so don't throw a doughnut at me just yet, Tory).
 
For the moment, the Fowler's project has a nice nest egg from their Indiegogo campaign, where friends and community members can contribute and support this innovative project. It's even attracted the attention of people outside our region, including one woman from the UK who contributed a very sizable gift because she was so moved by the Fowler's message and mission to continue to do more good in their community with this new home.
 
In the weeks ahead, they will have a September fundraiser to make another ask of our community since many of the items they will need before winter will exhaust their first Indiegogo funds. I hope our readers will be generous in this endeavor.
 
In the meantime, the work goes on. The Fowlers not only welcome their friends' and community members' hands in labor, but they also have begun to capture the attention of local business as well. This was seen most recently when an area firm, ODL of Zeeland, flew in staff members for an annual meeting, then invited them to join with their local co-workers to assist the Fowlers with tearing out the interior walls and installation at the house as well as prep the garden for the summer planting, which a week later involved neighbors in the community planting fresh vegetables.
 
Two months after that effort, on my return to the garden take a photograph for Rapid Growth, I discovered the Fowlers just a few steps from the now-gutted house standing in a garden towering with the result of their community members' shared labor. Later, after taking a few candid photographs of the Fowlers working inside the home, they emerged on the street and were immediately greeted by a few area kids who, upon spotting the couple, ran down the sidewalk, with one chap leaping to grab a hug from Matt and asking them when they were moving into the house.
 
A few children, when asked what they liked about the garden, took me to see their favorite items. As one girl latched onto a clump of green grapes, another yelled out not to pick them because they are not ripe yet. And just like most kids basking in the lazy glow of summer, they were off and running to the next thing, which in this case was a stop at the local Little Caesars for a PizzaPizza special.
 
Thanking the Fowlers for the chance to observe them over these last few months, I turned to walk away, but after a few steps I looked back like Lot's wife. I spotted Matt holding up a heirloom squash for me to see and a smiling Kristin reclining in the sunlight in one of the many chairs that form a circle in the yard.
 
The Fowlers currently rent a house just around the corner until they can move in to their new home, which will include a giant kitchen and living room for neighbors to break bread (after baking it), with their living quarters devoted to the top floor.
 
"We just really want to get the house finished so we can be with our neighbors," says Matt. 
 
As it stands, the house is stripped inside to its subfloor, wall studs and joists. The next steps will be where the recipe for success really begins, with ingredients that are on par with organic cooking.
 
If you happened to meet these two on the street, you might be inclined to think they are just like any other hip, young couple that moved into the neighborhood. My jaded self has been checked because they have provided a motivating spark that should remind all of us who are hoping to be bold with our days on earth that sometimes the most meaningful work can be that which changes the lives of others in the process for the better.
 
The impact they produce here could be global or it simply could help change codes for others to follow locally in our city, but Kristin has a different and humbling focus when she says, "Matt and I simply want to operate on the small scale for our neighborhood street of Logan."
 
If we are to be BetaCity, USA, a far better moniker than the other ones we have picked up along the way, then we will be a city where a real revolution in living is not just for us, but for the world, too. But we have to begin it. Boldness, like Goethe's magnet on my refrigerator says, releases genius, power, and magic…but only if we begin it.

The Future Needs All of Us.

Tommy Allen
Lifestyle Editor

Editor's Note: Matt and Kristin invite the public to join them in September for a fundraiser to celebrate the goals met and what is before them. Info on this event will be released via their site: thenestgr.com

G-Sync Events: Let's Do This! is a celebration of the next and beautifully created events of our region. Please consider adding few (or all) of these items to your calendar.

 
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