You are hereEco-districts take center stage (Sustainable Business Oregon)
Eco-districts take center stage (Sustainable Business Oregon)
Tuesday, October 26, 2010, 2:09pm PDT | Modified: October 29, 2010, 2:59 PM
by Lee van der Voo
Sustainable Business Oregon
A summit in Portland this week is fostering talk about eco-districts, a budding concept in sustainable development that could bolster the city's already solid image as a leader in urban planning.
So far the conversation is mostly hovering at a policy level. About 300 people, primarily regional leaders, converged Monday at the EcoDistricts Summit 2010 at Portland State University to discuss the idea and it’s local potential.
The conference comes at a time when the Portland Sustainability Institute, its host, stands ready to initiate eco-district development in two of its five planned pilot districts in the coming year. The Lents neighborhood and Lloyd District are taking the first steps toward organization. Also targeted are Gateway, South Waterfront and Portland State University — all of the targeted eco-district neighborhoods are urban renewal areas.
Should the concept take hold, future development in those areas would aim to embrace all facets of sustainable development, including everything from green building and redevelopment, to low-carbon transportation options, renewable power generation and farmers markets.
"What we're trying to do with eco-districts is really trying to layer all of those strategies … as a way of concentrating resources and strategies in one neighborhood" to see whether it works, said Naomi Cole, program manager of the Portland Sustainability Institute.
"The conference broadly is meant to move forward the conversation around neighborhood level sustainability," said Cole.
Rick Williams, executive director of Lloyd Transportation Management Association, said the conversation is already alive in the Lloyd District, where a resource council is being formed and local businesses, along with entities such as the Portland Development Commission, are signing letters of intent to build an eco-district in the 35-block neighborhood. The organizations and businesses involved are committing to provide funding, hire a sustainability director, provide research and a senior-level manager to the council, tasked with exploring the eco-district idea.
"You don't lead with projects. You lead with organization and specific goals and funding," said Williams.
That same strategy is alive in Lents, where PoSI has just hired a consultant tasked with outreach in the neighborhood. PoSI received a foundation grant this year, a $50,000 award from the Bullitt Foundation, to implement the eco-district plan in Lents.
In that neighborhood, Cora Potter said the idea will likely dovetail with other earth-friendly development already in progress under the banner Green Lents. Potter is the chairwoman of the Lents Town Center Urban Renewal Advisory Committee.
"We may not call it an eco-district in Lents. That's part of the planning lingo in Portland. We may call it something else. It's an umbrella that people can participate under. It's up to the community to decide how they… package it into something that's owned by the community," she said.
The idea of implementing eco-districts in Portland has had steady discussion since early 2009. It's being driven by city leadership, which began when Mayor Sam Adams created the Portland Sustainability Institute, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, and seeded it with a $175,000 grant from the city.
Adams continues to act as the founder of PoSI where eco-districts are a primary focus at PoSI, along with fostering development of the Oregon Sustainability Center and leading the Portland Metro Climate Prosperity project, which aims to curb emissions while expanding business opportunity.
The institute is charged with framing conversation about eco-districts and looping in policy makers, business leaders and academic experts. PoSI's board is a mix of those same groups and the organization maintains active partnerships with the city, Metro and Portland Development Commission.
Though eco-districts have been built elsewhere, such as at Hammarby Sjostad in Stockholm, Sweden; Living City Block in Denver; or in Western Harbour in Malmo, Sweden, Portland is unique in trying to remake existing urban areas as eco-districts. Cole said it is not clear whether urban renewal funds would be used.