The Curious Case of EcoDistricts in Pittsburgh

There’s something special about EcoDistricts in Pittsburgh. Every time I talk with local leaders, there seems to be yet another neighborhood that’s organizing around this new standard for equitable and sustainable neighborhood development. As part of the national non-profit advancing the EcoDistricts approach, I’m excited and inspired each time I connect with Pittsburgh. The city is quickly becoming a model for others in its approach to embracing equity and sustainability in pursuit of creating neighborhoods for all.

In the absence of federal leadership on climate change and inequality, U.S. cities like Pittsburgh are stepping up. Whether through renewable energy requirements, better transit policies, or smarter community development, city and local leaders are pressing forward regardless of the double-talk in Washington. Urban communities have long called for a more comprehensive approach to community development that starts at the neighborhood level, and lets the impacts rise up. This allows a community to set its own targets, bring all stakeholders and investors to the same table to build partnerships that will deliver over time, and insist on equity, climate and resilience outcomes on the front end of planning.

In early August, we announced 11 communities in 10 cities across North America that committed to EcoDistricts Certified, a new standard for community development. Millvale is one of these communities.  Their commitment means that they’re signing up for a rigorous, careful and deep process that gets them to their goal faster, and that they will track and measure impact over time. Uptown and Homewood are also in the active planning phases and have visited Portland, OR, for the EcoDistricts Incubator, a three-day workshop to develop a sustainable neighborhood strategy. Larimer is similarly exploring application of the EcoDistricts framework. And now the Triboro EcoDistrict seems to have taken root.

For far too long, the work of creating better cities has been about brick-and-mortar. We have learned how to build greener buildings, bigger stormwater systems, and better transit to accommodate a growing population with modern needs. Yet to succeed, we must demand a new approach to urban and community development that includes a sustainability and equality agenda from the outset. And we must change the culture of development to give a community a dominant voice in shaping its own destiny, not simply an opportunity to provide feedback on plans drafted by outside interests.

Pittsburgh’s leaders understand these challenges and the opportunity that lies at the neighborhood scale. Our team is excited to be working with staff from the City, neighborhoods, and the private sector to help advance Pittsburgh’s excellent EcoDistrict work and to help share your lessons learned and early successes with other cities and communities.

One of the first steps of our work with Pittsburgh is an upcoming visit in early October to help build on the city’s momentum and for us to better understand a bit of the local magic. If you’re similarly excited about all this, there are a couple opportunities to dig in deeper:

  • On Monday, October 2, join the leaders of Pittsburgh’s EcoDistricts for an engaging discussion about how the approach is transforming the City’s neighborhoods. Register
  • On Tuesday, October 3, attend an EcoDistricts Foundations training in Millvale. The daylong workshop includes a tour of the Millvale EcoDistrict. Register.

Given the EcoDistrict momentum in Pittsburgh, I have a feeling this visit is just the beginning.

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