EcoDistricts 101

 by Amanda Bryan, VIA Architecture

An EcoDistrict, boiled down to its simplest form, is merely a new way of consolidating large quantities of land into a comprehensive development and yet these projects represent so much more. EcoDistricts are the physical manifestation of five major areas impacted by global warming: political responsibility, environmental protection, energy production, social awareness, and building practices.

This means that we are in need of a much more thorough understanding of what an EcoDistrict really is and in order to do this I have expanded upon three major questions: What is an EcoDistrict? Why build an EcoDistrict rather than any other form of structured development? How do we successfully create an EcoDistrict?

Clonburris, a new proposal for an EcoDistrict located in Ireland, presents a model for sustainability in the Dublin Metropolitan area. (image source)
What is an EcoDistrict?
First and foremost, an EcoDistrict is a vision. It is a vision, implemented by both the public and private sector, that a specific district should embody economic, social, and environmental sustainability within a resource efficient framework. Below are five major goals that EcoDistricts strive for:
  • diversity among commercial and residential development
  • comprehensive transportation options (convenient train or BRT access)
  • enhanced community realm (amenities such as communal open spaces, pedestrian friendly streets and sidewalks, after school care, etc.)
  • implementation of onsite energy creation with complimentary building systems
  • strategic mitigation of waste (grey water processing, storm water run-off, GHG emission controls, etc.)

Why build an EcoDistrict?
The main reason why it would be better to build an EcoDistrict over any other development is its sheer size and widespread impact. EcoDistricts typically compose several city blocks, subsequently bringing the accountability of governmental oversight and the efficiency of a unified group of stakeholders. Also, the size of an EcoDistrict makes the implementation of district-wide energy much more cost effective because it averages the cost of construction over a large amount of saleable property.

Bo01, an EcoDistrict located in Malmo, Sweden, demonstrates its progressive thinking with a resource efficient exhibit of residential development. (image source)
How do we create an EcoDistrict?
There are three distinct but equally important components to creating an EcoDistrict – buildings and public infrastructure, social infrastructure, and finance tools. Listed below are the particulars of each component:

Buildings and Public Infrastructure
infrastructure acts as the backbone for an EcoDistrict, shaping the primary needs of access and energy production while buildings define the physical character of the district
Social Infrastructure
due to EcoDistricts’ sheer size and the amount of time and effort it takes to shape one, there must be someone in the drivers seat, typically composed of representatives from the government, community, and private investor(s), each pushing the process forward and maintaining the project’s aspirations
Finance Tools
a financial plan must be in place to ensure that all the various project elements are funded (i.e. underwriting for governmental funding can ensure the energy infrastructure is built while private investment is used to pay for buildings and open spaces)

South East False Creek, site of the 2010 Olympic Games located in Vancouver, Canada, highlights its energy efficient buildings with a system of green roofs. (image source)
In summary, EcoDistricts present the opportunity to consolidate our efforts toward economic, cultural, and environmental sustainability at a scale that can change the way our cities look, feel, and work. The power of EcoDistricts is not in their unique character or impressive technology but in the ability to duplicate their overarching framework.