EcoDistricts ’11 Scaling Innovation: Sarah Heinicke

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The Lloyd District is one of Portland’s five Pilot EcoDistricts and is moving forward to build a green-minded, diverse and unique neighborhood with a strong identity and strong ties to sustainability with a business case baked in. District Sustainability Director, Sarah Heinicke, shares her vision and an update on how this neighborhood is tackling environmental and social issues, while seizing opportunities, all at the district scale.

EcoDistricts: Each of the Portland EcoDistrict Pilots are quite distinct in terms of neighborhood culture and circumstance. How does the Lloyd District differ from its counterparts in the program and what priorities have come out of that unique perspective?

Sarah Heinicke: The Lloyd Eco district is comprised of large superblocks, suburban-style office development and governmental uses. The board itself is comprised of leaders from those key stakeholder firms and institutions. Currently there is no representation from the relatively small residential population, or small businesses interests, though we intend to reach out to those communities.

These are the obvious differences when you think of Lloyd District compared to Foster Green, or South Waterfront. Those are material differences, but I think we have a lot more in common than not. The process of implementing these kind of transformative changes on this scale, the issue of board involvement, community advocacy, and the prospect of implementation in a bearish market are challenges all the districts face no matter what their mix.

We are just now initiating our project priorities discussion and although I don’t have a final list to share with you, I can tell you there is a lot of excitement to just get started on something. It’s my job to make sure the project mix is right—from big multi-year, multi-stakeholder efforts to smaller, simpler projects. Projects that are feasible, impactful, executable and have a funding mechanisms built in are the strong favorites. Another priority that has emerged is getting our governance structure in order sooner rather than later so that we know exactly where we stand and to approach the community for support, either in terms of mission or funding.

EcoD: You’ve been in your role for several months now. What kind of vision has your working group developed for the Lloyd EcoDistrict in that time? How is success defined now that you’ve become acquainted with the project, the stakeholders and their priorities?

SH: We are developing a vision statement of sorts that reflects what we feel to be uniquely Lloyd —what set us apart, gives us an edge, and provides a compass to orient our priorities. It’s a work in progress, but essentially the board would like to develop a brand that speaks to the fact that projects that go forward in the Lloyd District have to make financial sense, and have a solid real world business case in support of them, in addition to a environmental and social equity component.

EcoD: Developing an EcoDistrict seems like an inherently political process, given the number of stakeholders and varied interests for outcomes. How do you successfully accomplish goals in that political environment without any “power” so-to-speak?

SH: Time will tell, I suppose, but I think any movement or group of people working together on something must have respect, patience, compassion, consensus and hard work in place to get anything done. The EcoDistrict is not a command/control model of action. We have to learn to work together as a board and as a community if we want to get anything done in the finite sense of projects and programs in the Lloyd EcoDistrict (and in the larger city/global picture). The Lloyd EcoDistrict partners have to learn how to trust and collaborate with each other. So old forms of “power” may be irrelevant in some cases. We are on the cutting edge of figuring out how that can work.

EcoD: How important are the more emotional benefits, such as sense of identity, to the success of an EcoDistrict? And how do you measure these kinds less tangible outcomes?

SH: I think the sense of identity will ultimately be critically important to the EcoDistrict’s success long-term, but I think it’s premature to try to roll out an identity campaign for a movement that has yet to accomplish anything or gain significant momentum. If we were to do that, I think we would risk losing credibility and perhaps be guilty of being “all hat, no cattle.” Once we get some projects going, and widen our influence to include residents and small businesses, we will be able to reassess and start to lead with a sense of identity that has substance behind it.

EcoD: You’ve mentioned on several occasions that social equity needs to play a key strategic role in the development of the Lloyd EcoDistrict. Why is this so critical? And has a concrete direction been established to address the subject? 

SH: An EcoDistrict is a holistic enterprise. We can not attempt to make right-headed decisions about how to build better, do infrastructure better, promote health and connectivity, and restore of our natural environment and then not include the human condition in that. The EcoDistrict should be seen as an economic development tool and a big part of the tools’ function is to try to address job creation for all sectors of the population.

Our board does not yet have concrete plan of action for achieving this, but we are considering ideas such as working with workforce development agencies, the trade unions, non-profits, and the County to help deliver a jobs component to some of the proposed projects involving existing building retrofits. We’re also working with a Portland State University undergraduate business Capstone course, and they are specifically helping us develop a business case for including a workforce component in the projects we pursue.

EcoD: Is there collaboration between the Pilot District groups on shared interests/challenges/situations? For instance, the SoMa and Lloyd EcoDistricts both have an interesting mix of large and medium scale business interests plus urban residential communities to appease. Are the lines of communication open during the process? If so, how?

SH: The lines of communication are definitely open, Kirsten Cowden and I have met several times and have a regular meeting on our calendars because we also recognize the inherent similarities in our districts. A board member and I have shared our initial process hurdles, and I think I speak for both groups when I say we wish there was more time in the day to share information and work together. I suspect we will pioneer a number of process oriented models for project assessments, governance, finance models that SoMa will be able to use when they are ready.

EcoD: What kind of public reporting structure is planned for the EcoDistricts? Will some sort of status updates be available for the public using social and online media, so we can keep up on how the pilots are taking shape?

SH: As a non-profit we are not obligated to fulfill public reporting laws, though we certainly want to share all the progress and good news we have. We would love to have a very robust website, which is updated and linked in to appropriate social media outlets when we have news to share. Right now we are working to get a website launched, with relevant, up-to-date, useful content that keeps people engaged and interested (and willing and able to help the cause). A lot of the success or failure of this organization in the first years will be dependent on how we can motivate and procure excellent help from volunteers.

As we partner with agencies that do have public reporting requirements, they will share that information to their stakeholders as well. Right now our public partners are the Mayor’s Office, Portland Development Commission, and Metro.

Sarah Heinicke is the Lloyd District Sustainability Director, and a speaker at the third annual 2011 EcoDistricts Summit, October 26-28 in Portland, Oregon. Find details on the  EcoDistricts Summit at ecodistrictssummit.com.

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