By Steph Stoppenhagen, CH2M HILL Sustainability Strategist and Client Service Manager
An EcoDistrict is a neighborhood or district with a broad commitment to accelerate neighborhood-scale sustainability. EcoDistricts commit to achieving ambitious sustainability performance goals, guiding district investments and community action, and tracking the results over time – this isn’t the first time I have mentioned this.
Last month, CH2M HILL finished a small task order ‘North American EcoDistricts Program – Research and Program Design’ with the City of San Francisco as leaders of a pack of cities that include: Austin, TX; Bloomington, IN; Boston, MA; Denver, CO; Memphis, TN; Minneapolis, MN; New York City, NY; Portland, OR; Mountain View, CA; Vancouver, BC; Washington DC; and Cleveland, OH. We were the overseeing consultants with subcontractor Portland Sustainability Institute (PoSI) that developed the Sustainability Framework approach for neighborhoods. This EcoDistrict-type program focuses on priority areas including local food systems, zero waste, large scale behavior change, sustainability marketing campaigns, and sustainability indicators for neighborhoods with a plan to scale city-wide.
The project was made possible from the Urban Sustainability Director’s Network (USDN) grant, ‘Innovation Opportunity Fund’. These grants are small in monetary size but can be quite effective in how we utilize the results, which is why I want to spread the word and the final report.
Successful examples of EcoDistricts in North America are few and far between currently. What we are experiencing are many disparate projects happening in pockets and not the cohesive planning needed to bring these pieces together. It is becoming far more apparent that city leaders have to provide more resources, respond to energy and climate issues, and retrofit/revitalize neighborhoods and city centers to ‘sustain’ growth, jobs and people’s well-being.
City leaders are realizing the ‘go-it-alone’ strategy is a challenge in this economy – building-level programs need to integrate with city-wide policies to be able to make a difference in furthering urban sustainability. A big challenge that the report cites is fragmented coordination within the city, whether that be policy makers and utilities or neighborhood stakeholders and industry leaders. In addition, limited budget, and outdated laws, policies and regulation are of large barriers to success.
At a high level, the work consisted of creating a framework in four key areas: district organization, district assessment, project development and district management. The research consisted of understanding the cities’ needs and barriers, identifying existing tools, peer-reviewing the EcoDistrict approach, and developing a program design and budget to support a framework that would work for that particular city. The focus groups involved in this program besides ourselves were U.S. Green Building Council, American Institute of Architects, Urban Land Institute, Institute for Sustainable Communities, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to name a few.
The final report summarizes the results of comprehensive research findings and describes how to design a pilot program to accelerate the deployment of sustainable neighborhood practices and projects that are growing in this marketplace. The EcoDistricts Initiative focuses on removing implementation barriers and creating an enabling strategy to accelerate neighborhood-scale sustainability to a district-wide scale.
I think we at CH2M HILL are poised to help guide this strategy for our clients and some of us already do. I want to make cities smarter, make them more connected by doing a deep-dive into infrastructure and how it relates to people and to the environment… we are getting there and this is just a small piece of the puzzle.
Steph Stoppenhagen is a Sustainability Strategist Lead and a Client Service Manager for CH2M HILL’s Water Business Group in Portland, Oregon. Steph helps lead the sustainability ‘think tank initiatives’ at CH2M HILL Global Sustainability. Steph was responsible for the development of the technical team of solar experts that have defined a patented methodology called SAFE ™ Method (Solar Automated Feature Extraction) which automates the process of examining the Photovoltaic (PV) potential of rooftops and reduces the time to analyze this potential by 75 percent. Steph now integrates SAFE™ with various City and utilities globally, to link with climate change requirements. Steph is focused on eco-innovation with the creation of urban services systems that connect communities with their carbon goals.