This month, leaders from Austin, Bellingham, Boston, Charlotte, Cleveland, Guadalajara (Mexico), Mountain View, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Vancouver gathered in Portland, Ore. for the first-ever EcoDistricts Institute, a meeting where they examined neighborhood-scale development projects in each of their cities.
The leaders at the institute are developing what are called EcoDistricts, which are also known as "green neighborhoods" or "green districts." EcoDistricts integrate green buildings and smart infrastructure (energy, water, waste, recycling, transportation, etc.) with community action and civic entrepreneurism. EcoDistricts can be established within brownfield redevelopment areas, campuses or existing neighborhoods.
For the participants in the institute -- which was funded by generous grants from the Blackstone Ranch Institute and Ecoworks Foundation -- being on the forefront of a new era of urban innovation isn't enough. They want to go faster, and that's why they came to Portland. Each had an interesting story to tell:
Ten cities, ten stories. The reason for these projects in North America -- and dozens more like around the world -- is more apparent than ever: Municipal and business leaders must find effective ways to repurpose neighborhoods to take advantage of the growing trends in urbanization (millions of people coming to a city near you in the coming decade) and the changing economy that places a premium on knowledge and innovation. According to leading economists like Joe Cortright and organizations such as Preservation Green Lab and ArtPlace, the cities that focus on rehabilitating and building vibrant, green and diverse neighborhoods have the best chance of thriving in the future.
After spending three days with over 60 leading green city leaders last week, I left feeling exhilarated and convinced, more than ever, that we're on the cusp of an urban sustainability revolution. We are certainly seeing evidence of such a revolution here in Portland. People continue to flock here. Why? We've adopted a culture that's ultimately led to a 26 percent drop in per person carbon emissions since 1990 while the city and economy has grown. This culture has also given rise to a true green economy, and we are becoming known as the city that builds green cities. We have five EcoDistricts here today, with two more coming online this year. That's all in addition to the launch of a North American EcoDistricts Pilot Program this year as well.
Even with the economy struggling to rebound and cities facing unprecedented pressure to do more with less, this year is shaping up to be a busy one for the green cities movement. And the timing couldn't be better.