Portland ecodistricts move ahead under city guidance

After refining the ecodistrict concept through a five-neighborhood pilot project, the Portland Sustainability Institute has turned over management of the city's ecodistricts over to the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

After refining the ecodistrict concept through a five-neighborhood pilot project, the Portland Sustainability Institute has turned over management of the city's ecodistricts over to the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. 

Portland's five designated ecodistricts are looking ahead to the new year with resolutions and priorities, operating under the leadership of the city of Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

A resolution passed by Portland City Council in late October effectively passed the baton for the care and feeding of the ecodistricts from the Portland Sustainability Institute — known as POSI — the nonprofit established by Mayor Sam Adams in 2009, back to the city.

"With the resolution, POSI is becoming less active in managing the five pilot neighborhoods and evolving into more of a technical resource," said Rob Bennett, POSI's executive director. "This was always intended as a pilot project."

The five ecodistricts — Gateway, Lents (known as Foster Green), South Waterfront, Lloyd District and the South-of-Market/Portland State University neighborhood — were first announced in 2010 and have been working with POSI on sustainable development at a neighborhood scale. The definition of an ecodistrict is essentially a neighborhood working together on things like waste management, transportation, renewable energy, energy efficiency and even district heating and cooling toward overall better sustainability.

Alisa Kane, green building and development manager for the city, said her department is working to determine the best roll for the city to play with the ecodistricts.

"It's a work in progress," Kane said. "We're building new relationships and figuring out how we can help them."

Kane provided an update on each ecodistrict:

• The "Growing Gateway" ecodistrict is one of two ecodistricts continuing to work with POSI on a detailed 'business plan' for its activities. That work is funded by the Portland Development Commission. The district is looking at ways to deploy energy efficiency programs at a community scale and also working on plans for a bike facility at the Gateway Transit Center. Gateway worked with University of Oregon students earlier this year on urban design ideas.

• Foster Green is also continuing PDC-funded work with POSI to refine its plan. The ecodistrict will focus on improving the energy efficiency and sustainability practices of the commercial strip along Southeast Foster Boulevard. The district is also looking at a bike project and an investment strategy for the Foster corridor.

• The South Waterfront ecodistrict is bring operated by South Waterfront Community Relations, a group funded by the residence towers in the neighborhood. The group is considering forming a transportation management association (similar to the one that operates in the Lloyd District) and is also interested in benchmarking the districts energy use as a first step toward setting efficiency goals.

• The SOMA-PSU ecodistrict is being co-chaired by Erin Flynn, associate vice president for strategic partnerships at PSU, and developer Bob Naito. The district is promoting the city's energy efficiency program for commercial buildings — the Kilowatt Crackdown —to building owners in the neighborhood and is looking at revitalizing the park areas in the neighborhood including Lovejoy Park.

• The Lloyd ecodistrict is the most robustly developed ecodistrict with a full-time staff person, an active commercial energy efficiency retrofit program and the promotion of the city's Sustainability at Work program. The district has strong advocates in the Portland Trail Blazers and would benefit from the district heat plan being discussed among buildings in the Rose Quarter. The Lloyd ecodistrict is also considering a considering a coordinated neighborhood waste strategy.

Kane points out that there is also robust neighborhood-scale work happening outside of designated ecodistricts, citing work in the Cully neighborhood and in the Conway redevelopment project in Northwest Portland as examples.

As for POSI, Bennett said the nonprofit would continue to work on spreading the ecodistrict concept around the country through workshops and other programs.

"We've been testing what the demand outside of the Portland region is," Bennett said. "We're developing a business plan right now."

As for Portland, Bennett said he would like to see the city enact some kind of a policy framework to support the development of future ecodistricts in the city.

"That level of clarity will need to be developed to for a broader application of ecodistricts," he said.

Kane said no policy changes are expected in the near term and that the city instead would look to match ecodistrict programs with existing city resources and incentives. Ecodistrict promotion of ecoroofs, for example, would be eligible for ecoroof examples already available from the city. Other neighborhood redevelopment programs might also apply to ecodistrict activities.

"The question is: Is this a bottom-up initiative or a top-down initiative?" Kane said. "I want to be an enabler."

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