[I was in Portland when the EcoDistrict project was launched and have been following it ever since. It’s still in its early days, but I think it’s a great approach to speed the evolution of our cities. Originally posted @SustainableCitiesCanada.]
You’ve probably seen pictures of London’s BedZED , or Malmo’s Western Harbour redevelopment. Showpiece green developments like those have put urban sustainability in the international spotlight.
But all around them is a larger city that also needs to evolve radically if we are going to make sustainable cities a reality. Otherwise the substance is missing; you’ve got the cherry on top, but no Sunday underneath.
The magic of developments like BedZED, or projects like Victoria’s Dockside Green here in Canada, is that they do it all, and all in one place. Renewable energy, walkable vibrant density, multiple transportation options, urban agriculture, green buildings…. all woven together into a whole that is inspiring and effective. Rather than piecemeal interventions you get a picture of what a fundamentally different city could look like.
But how can you apply the same holistic approach to the neighbourhoods and districts that we already have? Portland (OR) is one of a small number of cities pioneering efforts to answer that question.
In 2009 the city launched the EcoDistrict program
to accelerate the transformation of five existing neighbourhoods. EcoDistricts pursues the type of neighbourhood-scale interventions that you might expect, ranging from district energy to green streets. But at the core of the whole endeavour is the insight that to operate at a district scale the challenges aren’t primarily about technology, they are about people.
Unlike greenfield developments, working with existing neighbourhoods means working with a complex mix of residents, businesses, developers, utilities and municipal agencies. The EcoDistrict process begins by building a framework that allows all these different players to work together and supplies them with resources and strategies to begin remaking their part of the city.
The Elusive “How”: People
Portland aims to make the EcoDistrict approach something that can be applied in other cities (see their upcoming summit
). How well it will transfer remains to be seen. At the same time, other cities will also develop their own approach to collaboratively transforming existing cityscapes. Montreal’s Quartiers 21
and Quartiers Verts
programs, for example, also use the neighbourhood scale as a place to test out innovative ideas and processes of public engagement.
In the end the specific process cities follow isn’t as important as how they frame the challenge. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the “what” of urban sustainability; the “how” has always been a bit more elusive. Portland’s EcoDistricts program shows that it is possible to mobilize the complex mixture of different people and institutions in a way that makes holistic green urbanism possible.
It will be interesting to see which Canadian city will be the first to do the same.
. . . → Read More: openalex: EcoDistricts: All Green, All in One Place