Today, 11 communities in 10 cities across North America committed to a landmark new standard for community development that makes equity and sustainability fundamental requirements.
By embracing the new standard – EcoDistricts Certified – neighborhoods from Seattle to Boston to Toronto will become the first certified EcoDistricts in the world.
In the absence of federal leadership on climate change and inequality, U.S. cities 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. City-dwellers and especially communities of color 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. EcoDistricts Certified is a cutting-edge, holistic, and rigorous framework for helping communities do that work to achieve important public policy, sustainability, and investment goals.
How Does EcoDistricts Certified Work?
All EcoDistricts Certified projects 1) commit to equity, resilience and climate protection at the heart of every decision; 2) form collaborative governance that reflects community stakeholders; 3) create an implementation roadmap to guide projects and programs; and 4) track and measure impact over time. Each step is submitted to third-party verifiers to ensure transparency and accountability.
The certification process begins with registering your district. Once registered, the formal submission process begins, requiring a district to submit an Imperatives Commitment addressing equity, resilience and climate protection within a year. After the Imperatives Commitment is endorsed, districts must submit Formation and Roadmap documents. Certification is based on satisfaction of all Protocol requirements. To maintain certification, a district must submit biennial progress reports beginning on the second anniversary of certification.
A New Standard, Just in Time
EcoDistricts Certified arrives at a time of unprecedented reinvestment in cities and when communities everywhere face an increasing number of interwoven challenges:
- More than 75 million people are moving to cities every year in one of the world’s largest building booms, and experts expect cities around the globe will invest $41 trillion to upgrade infrastructure over the next 20 years.
- 70 percent of cities in the U.S. already are dealing with the effects of climate change and nearly all are at risk, requiring cities to rethink the deployment of infrastructure, emergency services and neighborhood social networks.
- Inequality in the U.S. has risen precipitously over the past 35 years, with the Great Recession exacerbating an already significant income gap that is contributing to massive pockets of disinvestment and gentrification.
- American infrastructure is crumbling, warranting a grade of D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
- Low income communities and communities of color are suffering disproportionate public health impacts, including a two- to three-times higher rate of asthma in some neighborhoods and significantly higher rates of obesity.
- Pollution, development and population growth are placing severe stress on urban water supplies, and large cities are facing a rising demand for water in a time of scarcity and threats to the quality of the water supply.
In neighborhoods in Austin, Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Pittsburgh, Portland, Seattle, Rochester, Santa Monica, and Toronto, leaders are not simply tackling stubborn challenges with new solutions – they’re certifying the work against a formal standard that measures results. Their boldness deserves to be recognized and celebrated. More details on these 11 projects are available on the Project Registry.
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 if we are 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.
We all want better, more resilient cities. Getting there is tough. But we have an enormous generational opportunity. We are, quite literally, building our future right now, and the stakes are high. No matter how green a city’s projects, if they fail to meet the varied needs of its community members – whether rich or poor, young or old, longtime resident or new arrival – it is not building sustainably. Community activists are taking to the streets to demand better schools, safer drinking water, and local investments that lift people out of poverty. It is time for our cities to partner with their communities to build truly sustainable neighborhoods for all. The planet and our children can’t wait any longer.
For more information on neighborhoods pursuing EcoDistricts Certified, please see our Case Studies page.
For more information on EcoDistricts Certified, join us on Aug. 8 at 10am PST for an upcoming webinar.