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EcoDistricts 101

Dec 10, 2009

 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.

3 Comments

  1. Dear Jihad,
    How are you? Long time no see

    You’ve certainly got an ‘Excellent’ point and I’m sure there are quite a few voices that would disagree about the EcoDistricts being a positive thing for society. Yes, technology is being more integrated into buildings through the district infrastructure but at the same time, we are also going back to more simplistic ‘technologies’ by implementing passive ventilation techniques.

    As for comparing them to Ebenezar Howard’s Garden Cities, I don’t think you can fully compare them because Howard’s ideals were based upon the physical form of the city rather than an underlying goal (of sustainability) that can really be manifested in a variety of ways. Howard wanted cities to follow a certain form whereas EcoDistricts could take pretty much any form. Yes, they are districts that may argue against city identity but the crux is that as long as we don’t upon greenfield development for these projects, they can be much more integrated into the city fabric than what Howard was suggesting.

    So, yes there are some downsides to EcoDistricts but I think their ailments are still better than the options we have currently in front of us which is really ignorance of our energy consumption/production and wide-spread sprawl.

    Amanda

  2. Hi Amanda,
    Thank you for the post, it’s always good to read some refreshing ideas.

    HOWEVER, I personally don’t think that going in this direction of building community will necessary help our cities in the long run for two reasons:

    1- Combining technology in our building is good to some extent, however, every machine we depend on in our building has the risk of mechanical failure and higher maintenance cost and with years going by this risk and cost get higher and higher until it will completely fail, then what?

    2- District according to Kevin lynch are ‘area of city with common identifying characteristics’ and differentiation of Social class, activity, building type creates the ‘district’ and city identity so in my humble opinion building the Eco-District in the way explained is actually doing the opposite of what a district job had to offer to our city identity, and I’m sorry to disagree with you that this will bring culture in, It wont.

    After more than 100 years of Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City idea, what do you think the differences between it and Eco-District or almost all ideas we read about for building new neighborhoods? Please let me know if you find any.

    Jihad

  3. I didn’t know what an EcoDistrict was until the other day…I begin to understand why making a larger green project makes so much sense. I can see how you can share amenities, for instance, have a PV array on one building which gets the most sun exposure, and green roofs on other buildings, geothermal on a different portion of the site, and so on… and by adding all these separate green features up it is possible to make the whole project net zero or close. When working on small limited sites or individual buildings, it’s not likely that you can get optimal exposure or space needs for all these things, but by sharing over a large campus, it really looks feasible.