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Eco-Districts: An Engaged and Inclusive Community Development Process

A community is best positioned to create vibrant, thriving places when a neighborhood, including its residents and businesses, are fully engaged in the planning and implementation process.  Also essential is grassroots and municipal leadership.  To maximize effectiveness, some basic tools and capacities are needed to steer community driven ideas.  One such tool is the EcoDistrict approach to holistic community improvement.  It takes a collaborative and neighborhood-scale approach to achieve positive outcomes in equity, resilience and climate protection.  The EcoDistrict process and the ideals that ground it are based on inclusive community engagement.  Local work to date with a number of regional communities shows that EcoDistricts align well with the Sustainable Pennsylvania Community Certification, a free voluntary municipal recognition program of the Pennsylvania Municipal League (PML) and Sustainable Pittsburgh.  Sustainable Pittsburgh readily endorses the EcoDistrict process as an effective means for municipalities to create and reach their community development goals.

Numerous communities in and around the City of Pittsburgh are already using the EcoDistrict process to revitalize their neighborhoods.  The Uptown neighborhood embraced this process to in part prepare the community for the forthcoming Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) improvements, which are expected to bring significant investment and land development opportunities.  Community leaders in Uptown spent more than a year creating their “Ecoinnovation District”.  They sought input by reaching out to residents, business owners, and experts through surveys, interviews, focus groups, public meetings, and open houses.  Such was the priority to ensure intimate community involvement to steer neighborhood improvements and future investments.  The Borough of Millvale created its first EcoDistrict plan, PIVOT 1.0, as a proactive response to a series of devastating floods that rocked the riverfront community in the mid-2000s.  With professional assistance from architecture and consulting firm evolveEA, Millvale recently finished the second phase of its EcoDistrict PIVOT 2.0.  They are now expanding the next EcoDistrict planning round to include the nearby Boroughs of Etna and Sharpsburg.  The Larimer neighborhood of Pittsburgh has also embraced an EcoDistrict process to hasten community improvements in energy, water, and food systems.

EcoDistricts.org, a national/international organization located in Portland Oregon, is formalizing the eco-district process through neighborhood and professional certifications.  Four steps define the EcoDistricts certification:

  • Commitment to equity, resilience, and climate protection
  • Formation of collaborative governance
  • Creation of an implementation roadmap to guide projects and programs
  • Tracking and measuring impact over time

Their certification uses third-party verifiers for submissions to check for Protocol compliance.  The goal is to move projects from vision to reality.

The EcoDistricts community driven approach is strengthened by EcoDistricts.org’s national push to make it a formally recognized and verified community development tool.  Sustainable Pittsburgh is engaged with local partners New Sun Rising, evolveEAGreen Building Alliance, Homewood Children’s Village and the City of Pittsburgh to work with the EcoDistricts process and to assist communities that might be interested or ideal candidates for participation.  This partnership is optimistic for the community benefits to accrue to all involved and notes the EcoDistricts process is an aid to municipalities seeking to improve their standing in the Sustainable Pennsylvania Community Certification and the well-being of their neighborhoods.  To learn more, email Jim Price or call him at 412-259-5331.