On April 24, a diverse group of community and urban development leaders packed into the Millvale Food & Energy Hub outside Pittsburgh for 3 days of intense conversations to design their neighborhoods of the future. The 8th EcoDistricts Incubator hit the road for the first time, since its launch in 2012 to set up in Pittsburgh in service to a diverse set of “Legacy city” projects that represented blighted urban neighborhoods, brownfield redevelopments, former manufacturing sites, areas in the pathway of toxic pollutants, and neighborhoods dwarfed by nearby sports arenas and hospitals. Incubator participants brought creativity and energy despite years of battling City Hall and private developers for clean air, access to healthy food, more parks, better transit, and infrastructure investment. Communities from Pittsburgh and its boroughs and downtown Cleveland comprised the thirteen projects.
The Incubator, one of EcoDistricts’ signature convenings, is a three-day, deep dive immersion for project teams to roll up their collective sleeves and develop a strategy to advance one (or more) projects in their community, led by trained facilitators with subject-matter experts standing by to advise on everything from creative placemaking to stormwater abatement. Teams work together, in larger groups, and in breakout sessions with those from other communities to learn from each other, share best practices, and co-create solutions. Christine Mondor of Pittsburgh’s EvolvEA, one of the country’s leading EcoDistricts practitioners, served as lead facilitator. The hand on and deeply immersive workshop uses the EcoDistricts Protocol to help participants start to build strategies in the areas of governance and project prioritization. Over the course of the event, each team built a draft framework for simultaneously addressing equity, resilience and climate protection as a first step to ensure that neighborhood leaders have the capacity and the technical know-how to advocate proactively for their communities’ interests.