It’s always an exhaustive march towards our annual event, the EcoDistricts Summit. This year we made the nations capital our home, with the support of an amazing host committee and a group of local champions that are helping us build the marketplace for district and neighborhood-scale sustainable development. It was rewarding, informative, inspiring and at times, emotional.
The Summit is the only conference dedicated to neighborhood-scale sustainability. From density to diversity, technology to health, governance to green infrastructure, EcoDistricts is a broad church, with a diversity of followers. While there are many sectors and disciplines, there is one uniting vision — just, resilient and sustainable neighborhoods and cities for all.
Here’s my five takeaways from Summit 2014:
Scale matters, size matters and outcomes matter. We live much of our lives in neighborhoods. Our neighborhood is our home, most of the time. It’s where health, happiness and prosperity play out. Continuing our efforts to make our neighborhoods more sustainable should be a priority, and as Jason Roberts (from The Better Block) showed us in his closing keynote presentation, neighborhoods give us an opportunity to realize quick wins that are life changing. The neighborhood scale optimizes many opportunities to explore, innovate and collaborate. Green infrastructure pilot projects, fairs and markets, transit-oriented development projects, last mile mobility – the opportunity to accelerate integrated sustainable development outcomes that have impact for our cities lies within our neighborhoods.
Think big, sure. But please start small. This was a call to action from Jason Roberts, who encouraged us to just get out there and get stuff done. He demonstrated that nothing is in our way except ourselves. Act immediately, be spontaneous, and demonstrate it can be done. Why let archaic codes and regulations get in the way? Community passion and action will trump the regulatory barriers any day of the week. Our EcoDistricts efforts need to embrace ‘nimble-ism’ and the celebration of our successes built upon these principles.
As part of this year’s event, we held an in-Summit Symposium on Urban Sustainability Rating Tools. Toolmakers, standard builders and framework advocates came together to….share! This was a rare opportunity for us all to meet and seek opportunities for collaboration. We had representation from all scales of rating tools – site, neighborhood, infrastructure and city. International standards, global challenges and niche sectors were represented. We found many common elements to our individual work pieces, and committed to finding the glue that could bring us closer together. A framework for collaboration is under investigation – a type of glue that will bind us in our efforts to create collective impact.
Another standout was Charles Montgomery, our opening keynote speaker. Through his urban experiments on happiness, he has stitched together many pieces on health and happiness, urban design and sociology. He challenged us all as city-builder to make sure our work leads to happiness. How can we be sustainable if we are not happy? Happy cities are more equitable, more prosperous and healthier. It’s a no-brainer really, but time and time again, we fail to learn from past failings and continue our practices of creating places that harm and hinder our health and wellbeing.
Equity, equity, equity. The Summit started and ended acknowledging equity as a driver, outcome and enabler of more sustainable districts and neighborhoods. From Charles Montgomery’s Day 1 closing panel, to the studio on equity-driven regeneration, our dialogue around equity is becoming more prevalent across disciplines and sectors. Coordinated and integrated action is of course what matters, and the EcoDistricts Target Cities pilot program is the opportunity through which our organization will work with public, private and the third sector to advance our efforts in creating the conditions for greater equity in our regeneration projects.
And that’s a wrap on the EcoDistricts Summit for another year! Keep an eye out for the 2014 Summit Report, coming in the next few weeks. Let’s continue our sustainable cities journey together, from the neighborhood up.