Environmentalists claim the project threatens the habitat of the Florida panther. Photograph: Alamy
I want to prove that development and preservation can work hand in hand, says Kitson. You watch the carelessness of new developments in terms of energy consumption, care for the environment, how you think about energy, technology, transportation, theres a responsibility on us to prove it can be done differently.
But can it? Florida is expecting population growth of 6 million by 2030. Many of the states national resources are under pressure from environmental degradation, including from sea level rise and overuse of ground water. Babcock is 20 ft above sea level, and built on land that had been disturbed by stone mining.
Kitsons plan was to make Babcock sustainable from the outset. Run are energy-draining McMansions and water-demanding lawns. The houses are designed smaller in scale, with dining room eliminated, and built in traditional Floridian ranch style with front and back porches.
Were looking at the average house performing 10 -2 0% better than Florida energy code, tells Dr Jennifer Languell, a green practices consultant on the project. Ultimately, however, theres no way to get around the demand for air conditioning in Floridas environment.
We can create airflow through the house, but the bottom line is we have to address the humidity and the only route to get the moisture out is to mechanically remove it.
Kitson says he toured large-scale communities to see how sustainability could be incorporated into real estate developments, including Serenbe on the edge of Atlanta; he travelled as far as Abu Dhabi in the process. Kitson says surveys he commissioned revealed that people want to be part of something that is sustainable, and want to know that where theyre going to live is not just not harmful to the environment but actually helps it.
Kitson says his determination was to create a sustainable community that functioned as a complete community. Its about a well-rounded good life, he says , not about being locked away from the world. Its various kinds of like going back to the way things used to be.
But how much of that is feasible? Egrets and a large alligator moving through a channel in the Babcock preserve suggest that the 10 -year delay in starting the development has been beneficial to indigenous species. Kitsons environmental projects include placing a pollinating garden around the solar field to attracting bees and beetles to help the environment and sustainability; the Babcock schemes envisage landscaping that can be beautiful but not thirsty.
One expectation is that by using a network of driverless automobiles, Babcock residents will ultimately scale back on car ownership, bringing a familys auto needs down from two cars to one, letting land that would be used for multi-car garages to be reassigned.
Still, the development of land in south-west Florida is controversial. Babcock lies close to one of the last habitats of Floridas dwindling panther population. Wildlife groups say the Babcock development hazards cutting off the big cats passage between the two parcels of land large enough to support a population.
A 2006 report by the Fish and Wildlife Service observed there would be no direct effect in the form of mortality or injury of the Florida panther resulting from this project. But it is feared that additional habitat loss from development of land around Babcock, and injury to the animals from traffic and illegal hunting, will further reduce the viability of the population.
The Florida panther is an endangered species and this development is locking them into a small area, says Matthew Schwartz of the South Florida Wildlands Association. Roadkill and habitat loss is just destroying the population because it has nowhere to expand into.
Schwartz says the town of Babcock Ranch is going smack into what the Fish and Wildlife Service identified as a possible expansion region. Thats tragic not only for the panther, but for black bears, eastern indigo snakes, red-cockaded woodpeckers and a whole range of species living under its umbrella.
The environmentalist says the threat to wildlife is not simply the development of Babcock itself, but the development of surrounding regions.
They say theyre only utilizing land that was previously disturbed but other private lands nearby will also be developed once people start are moving forward. People will want movie theater and shopping mall, all the things that are part of urban sprawl. This project is making undeveloped habitats around it much more vulnerable.
The developers didnt need to come into undeveloped habitat to start a solar project there are plenty of communities they could have retrofitted with solar, Schwartz adds.
When Babcock opens to the public early next year, it will be greeted as a new model town. How far it can serve as a model for a more sustainable future remains open to question.
Its an experiment, says Kitson. Ive expended half my life hiking, camping, being part of nature. A lot more people are thinking about how theyre living and how theyre affecting their surrounding. We have a unique opportunity to create a place in such a way that hasnt been did before. If we can get it right, we think its going to set a standard.