Our cities are undergoing a major transformation. More than half of all people on Earth now live in urban areas and another 2.5 billion people will follow suit by 2050.
This transformation is placing an increasing burden on critical resources and infrastructure – which, domestically, has been neglected to the point of near failure. The cost of growth has been heavy, hitting many disadvantaged neighborhoods hard. The equity gap across various communities is vast and continues to grow. Data show that the postal code a person is born into may have greater influence on their health and wellness than any other single factor. Issues surrounded income, educational opportunity, physical health, mental wellbeing, ecological health, and community resilience, among many others, are colliding and exacerbating conditions.
There has never been a greater need or opportunity to invest in our neighborhoods; to engage disenfranchised communities; to invest in resilient development; and cultivate regenerative solutions for climate protection.
Introducing the EcoDistricts Protocol
Our districts and neighborhoods have been – and always will be – the heart and soul of our cities. However, they are also characterized by a unique scale – small enough to innovate and yet large enough to leverage meaningful investment in public policy. EcoDistricts, a Portland Oregon-based nonprofit organization that assists cities, nonprofits, and the private sector to build equitable, resilient, and sustainable neighborhoods, has developed the EcoDistricts Protocol – a rigorous urban development framework for achieving “people-centered, economically vibrant neighborhood- and district-scale sustainability.”
The Protocol puts a comprehensive lens on urban regeneration decisions to identify meaningful goals and performance outcomes by implementing a flexible framework for collective impact in urban sustainability. Collective impact initiatives involve a centralized infrastructure, dedicated personnel, and a structured process that cultivates a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforces activities among all participants.
How the Protocol works
The EcoDistricts Protocol is essentially an adaptable tool for developing neighborhood- and district-scale sustainability through comprehensive strategies. The Protocol identifies three interrelated “imperatives“:
- Climate Protection
These imperatives are positively impacted by addressing six “priorities” through the local context of a district or neighborhood:
- Health and Wellbeing
- Living Infrastructure
- Resource Regeneration
How each of these priorities is addressed will be specific to any given locality. What may be effective in Boston may not make sense in Indianapolis. However, the general approach is consistent. A district or neighborhood looking to become certified through EcoDistricts, the community development process must do the following:
- Commit to Equity, Resilience, and Climate Protection (including carbon neutrality);
- Support multi-stakeholder collaboration and governance;
- Create a comprehensive district-scale “Roadmap” guided by performance indicators; and
- Report progress with a commitment to transparence and knowledge-sharing.
In a nutshell, the Protocol champions a continuous process through which Formation leads to a Roadmap, which leads to Performance, when leads back to Roadmap revisions and so on.
The Protocol is flexible enough to support a wide range of districts and neighborhoods – from existing neighborhoods to institutional campuses to industrial lands to brownfield sites. In order to earn EcoDistricts certification, a project must:
- Formalize an Imperatives Commitment document within one year of registration.
- Get the artifacts of the aforementioned Formation and Roadmap processes developed, formalized, and appropriately endorsed within two years.
Ongoing certification after the first two years is earned by virtue of reporting on the aforementioned Performance metrics – even if the performance outcomes fall short of goals and/or ambitions.
EcoDistricts has published a number of case studies for those interested in perusing a range of EcoDistrict success stories.
Become an EcoDistricts Accredited Professionals
The organization also offers an EcoDistricts Accredited Professional (AP) credential. I sought out to become an EcoDistricts AP because of the current confluence of emerging imperatives across the built environment. My hope is that the credential may serve as an avenue through which I can make a deeper, more meaningful contribution in my community at a scale which offers unique opportunities for transcendent impact.
I encourage anyone interested in contributing to the future of their local urban fabric to go through the EcoDistricts Foundation Course, support EcoDisticts if you can, and serve as an ambassador in your own backyard for better neighborhoods any way that you can – at any scale. Nothing is too big or too small.