Over the past generation, city leaders, housing and real estate providers, civic entrepreneurs, environmentalists, social justice activists, public policy makers, and funders have been working to design new models of urban development that address the challenges that plague our cities, such as disinvestment, inequity, and ecological degradation. New solutions like smart growth, active design policies, mixed-use/mixed-income development, complete streets, and green buildings began to shape the urban landscape and put pressure on land development and speculation. Solutions came with a new set of challenges — gentrification, displacement, and pockets of poverty and health disparities.
It is with this complex backdrop in mind, that we launched EcoDistricts Certified in 2016. The intent was to spark a movement of urbanists committed to using a governance and performance framework for district and neighborhood-scale redevelopment. EcoDistricts Certified is a starting point for real change — asking communities to meaningfully address equity and sustainability in their redevelopment investments and providing guidance that empowers local leaders to actively participate in defining and shaping their future. The goal is to ensure that visions are turned into results.
To learn more about the value of EcoDistricts Certified for districts and neighborhoods, we sat down with our own Certified Program Manager, Katy Ricchiuto.
What is the history of EcoDistricts — how did the Certified program come to be?
We started in 2009 as a Portland, Oregon-based organization working on five “ecodistricts” across the city. As a part of that effort in 2011, the Lloyd EcoDistrict in Portland officially became the country’s first declared neighborhood committed to applying our new framework in their investments. Capitol Hill in Seattle followed in 2012 by launching the city’s first ecodistrict project. As our organization started focusing our work nationally, we launched a pilot program modeled after the Portland program in 2014 with an additional 11 neighborhoods across the US and Canada. Each of these projects helped inform the development of the EcoDistricts Protocol and EcoDistricts Certified.
How many neighborhoods are part of the Certified cohort?
We started the Certified program in 2016, and since then it’s grown to a cohort of 17 neighborhoods from both the U.S. and Canada. So now we have 2 countries, 17 cities, more than 16,000 acres of land and over 400,000 residents that are part of EcoDistricts Certified. Some cities even have multiple neighborhoods pursuing certification; our two newest cohort members are Slavic Village in Cleveland, Ohio and Etna in Pennsylvania, both of which have joined Cleveland’s Clark-Fulton/MetroHealth and Millvale neighborhoods as part of a growing regional strategy in the “Iron Belt.” As a native Clevelander, I’m excited to see ecodistricts catching on in my hometown!
What do you think is the value of Certified for these neighborhoods?
I’ve spoken with a lot of individuals from very diverse backgrounds about “why EcoDistricts Certified?” The neighborhood certification and rating system space is crowded. What I say is that EcoDistricts Certified provides a rigorous process and performance framework for neighborhood regeneration. Neighborhood development is complex, messy and requires strong leadership and collaboration. By focusing on processes vs prescriptive tactics, the Protocol can be applied to many different neighborhood types.
For cities, EcoDistricts Certified ensures more effective neighborhood planning and investment outcomes through its three step implementation structure that emphasizes diverse and meaningful partnerships, comprehensive and deeply integrated performance-based implementation and regular reporting. You can integrate existing plans into the verification steps, providing quality assurance framework for neighborhood work already planned or underway.
For developers, the rigor and accountability of EcoDistricts Certified helps to build trust between developers and communities, strengthens, corporate social responsibility and green building commitments and help differentiate their projects in a competitive and often politically charged landscape.
For community based organizations, EcoDistricts Certified empowers neighborhoods to build strength through collective action and meaningful stakeholder engagement. t can help communities that may be over-planned and under-resourced build a practical implementation strategy. And when neighborhoods begin seeing small and large wins it improves their eligibility for new sources of funding which is so important in communities that are traditionally under resourced and at threat from speculation and predatory development.
How do you ensure that “ecodistricts” don’t lead to negative gentrification and displacement?
The Certified process intentionally begins with equity and neighborhood governance to ensure inclusion and transparency, and resilience, and climate protection to better protect our communities against the many shocks of a rapidly changing climate. We then require all projects to develop a set of vetted implementation strategies that are tied to performance metrics. By focusing on the process of examining who should truly have a seat at the table and a voice, neighborhoods will build or strengthen long-term decision-making structures and select projects that benefit the community the most. Certification also provides a way to measure impact over time and to make adjustments along the way.
There are so many certification or rating systems for cities and communities out there. How is EcoDistricts Certified different?
Our Protocol and Certified program are all about ensuring an equitable process of neighborhood regeneration. The great thing about EcoDistricts Certified is that it layers so well with other certification and rating systems and plans. We have neighborhoods in the EcoDistricts Certified cohort that are using LEED-ND or the Living Communities Challenge for their outstanding performance metrics, or the WELL Building or Community Standard to improve public health outcomes. Most of our cohort are integrating existing master plans, neighborhood plans, or climate action plans into their roadmaps. We don’t want neighborhoods to have to reinvent the wheel — our process can help them strengthen these existing plans and identify gaps.
How do people learn more and sign up for EcoDistricts Certified?
I love talking to people about EcoDistricts Certified! If you are a developer, urban planner or designer, municipal leader, community development professional or simply live in or work with an awesome neighborhood and may be interested in learning more, you can contact me at email@example.com. To learn more about EcoDistricts Certified, you can visit our website and browse the information there, as well as our existing project registry. And if I’ve convinced you to sign your neighborhood up right now, you can register for EcoDistricts Certified online here.
MEET KATY RICCHIUTO: Katy plays a critical role in delivering advisory services, research, and policy support to catalytic urban regeneration projects. She manages a range of tasks related to business planning and development, client management, and project execution. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Katy is passionate about working at the neighborhood scale to affect change. Read her full bio here.