Are EcoDistricts the next approach to sustainability planning? Based on Dan’s recent introduction to the EcoDistrict concept, we think the process is solid and well researched, but is the name too “Eco” for broad acceptance? Does the name matter? Perhaps it is too early to tell, but a quick visual poll of workshop participants seemed to imply that a broader approach to neighbourhood planning beyond ‘Eco’ might be more appropriate for Alberta and possibly British Columbia. Perhaps a name like ‘Amazing’, ‘Strong’, ‘Healthy’ or ‘Extraordinary’ neighbourhoods could open more doors?
There is nothing like a project to find out, and we intend to. With matching funding from FCM for neighbourhood planning, a growing desire from communities to boost the implementation of community resilience and sustainability plans, and ongoing infrastructure replacement, we think the timing has never been better.
Read our “Embedded in Alberta” blog on the EcoDistrict process below, and let us know if you are ready.
Embedded in Alberta: What’s an EcoDistrict?
A few weeks ago I attended a course in Calgary, AB administered by the Canada Green Building Council on the EcoDistrict Process. Course delivery was supplied by EcoDistricts.org, the program arm and new name for the Portland Sustainability Institute.
My co- learners included a host of City of Calgary and Edmonton staff, developers, planning consultants, neighbourhood associations and engineering firms. The breadth of participants at this event can be explained by what EcoDistricts are all about: “Accelerating sustainability from the neighbourhood up.” The EcoDistrict idea posits that neighbourhoods are the sweet spot for accelerating sustainability from plans to action. “Sometimes city wide programs are just too hard to wrap your arms around,” says our instructor Adam Beck. Which brings me back to the mix/range of course participants. EcoDistricts are ignited through harnessing new partnerships of actors with a stake in the local neighbourhood. Since the program aims to accelerate implementation, these partnerships require a mix of planners, funders, private and public organizations and knowledge – essentially all the people we had in the room at our course.
Step 1 of the EcoDistricts process begins by organizing a group of interested parties with a vested interest in accelerating sustainability in their neighbourhood. This organizing step is critical to the process because it is the foundation that supports implementation of the plan for the neighbourhood. Without effective organization of actors and discussions on funding models and ongoing management systems, it is highly unlikely that any on the ground actions will ever occur, so this step is of critical importance.
Step 2 includes assessing the neighbourhood on eight different high level performance areas including equitable development, community identity, energy, health and wellbeing, access and mobility, habitat/ecosystem, materials and water. From here you set goals for the neighbourhood and assess a host of leading project ideas against these goals and unique neighbourhood characteristics in order to prioritize the best ideas for short and longer term actions.
Step 3 targets project development, staging, timing, funding and implementation of quick projects such as a new bike lane, as well as the initial steps for some longer term projects like a district energy system. Projects start here and the premise is that they should continue as long as the right governance and team structure is set up in Step 1.
Step 4 is really about ongoing management of the projects and implementation, as well as the group of stakeholders, to ensure the projects continue to get implemented and that parties meet regularly, ensuring ongoing progress.
With five pilot EcoDistricts underway and many more under development, learnings about this unique approach to sustainability planning and doing are emerging every day.
Follow the progress of these EcoDistricts here:
- Gateway Ecodistrict
- Lent (Fostergreen) Ecodistrict
- South Waterfront Ecodistrict
- Lloyd Ecodistrict
- South of Market Ecodistrict