Developing districts

Developing districts

Defining an eco-district

0612 DevelopingDistricts Sidebar01An eco-district is more a way of thinking about environmentally sustainable practices than a physically transformed space.

At first blush, the term seems to suggest a defined area filled with green spaces, hybrid vehicles, state-of-the-art mass transit systems and green buildings sprouting solar arrays and green roofs. Those could all be elements of an eco-district, but Portland eco-district leaders say the concept is more a way to get businesses, government agencies and residents to agree on a shared set of values centered around sustainability and environmental awareness.

“Eco-districts are a framework,” says Nicole Isle, director of sustainability and planning for green consultant Brightworks’ western region.

In other words, a visitor might not notice much difference between a shopping excursion in an eco-district versus a non-eco-district. But the shopper doesn’t see the food-waste-to-compost initiative undertaken by the area restaurants, or the energy efficient upgrades building owners agreed to implement, or the highly efficient district-wide energy system. The visitor might not even notice that existing park and open spaces now have many more trees busy sequestering carbon.

Most eco-district proposals center around energy efficient buildings and water systems, storm water and run-off improvements, transportation, green spaces, incentives for residents and employees to use mass transit, and food-waste composting.

An eco-district is a neighborhood or other distinct district with a broad commitment to accelerating district scale sustainability, according to the Portland Sustainability Institute. The idea is to create a triple-bottom-line community with the lowest environmental impact and the highest long-term economic and community returns.

At its heart, the eco-district movement is a way to get all the parties in a defined district to agree on measures that lead to the coveted triple bottom line: good for people, the planet and business profits. For more information, visit the eco-district section at pdxinstitute.org.

Dan McMillan is a Portland-based journalist. His previous story for Oregon Business was on Diebold Lumber. Reach him at editor(at)oregonbusiness.com.">editor(at)oregonbusiness.com.