The City of Portland has been a major driver behind the EcoDistricts approach to sustainable development—and the world is taking notice. City of Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability Director, Susan Anderson, lets us in on why the district scale works, its potential as a global standard of sustainable development and the key aspects for cities to get right.
EcoDistricts: What inspired the City of Portland to drive the development & adoption of a district-scale model for sustainable innovation—i.e., the EcoDistrict?
Susan Anderson: Essentially, EcoDistricts are small enough to act quickly but big enough to have a meaningful impact. They also offer the potential for collaboration at a multi-block scale, creating opportunities that aren’t possible either city-wide or on a building-by-building basis. Over the last 10 to 12 years Portland has seen incredible strides taken in building performance—we’re beginning to see net-zero energy buildings, for example. But we also know that a district-scale approach creates opportunities to link buildings and achieve performance together that is much better than each building can do individually. The whole district can be much more than the sum of its parts. Solutions like district energy, for example, become feasible.
Working at district scale also taps into a powerful identity—the neighborhood. In Portland, neighborhoods provide a strong organizing identity that connects and motivates residents and businesses. Creating an EcoDistrict can both benefit and contribute to neighborhood identity, and the community development that results can create a powerful positive feedback loop.
Just as we’ve seen success at the building scale, we see even more options for a district. At a community-wide level we make plans, policies, investments and run programs, often quite successfully. We also know how, in most cases, city-scale change happens slowly. EcoDistricts offer the promise of delivering projects on a much-accelerated timeline, and one that is driven by the businesses, residents, and property owners in a district, not by the city.
EcoD: Why do you think this model is working in Portland? Is it something unique about our city culture or do you believe the EcoDistrict model can work anywhere?
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