EcoDistricts Incubator in Portland welcomes Detroit to envision neighborhoods of the future

Understanding what EcoDistricts are and why they are important.

Portland is considered by many the mecca for sustainability initiatives within a city and surrounding neighborhoods. It has some of the best and most readily available public transportation, access to local foods, bike-friendly communities, green buildings, as well as a number of other attractions classified as eco-friendly. An EcoDistrict is defined as “a new model of public-private partnership that emphasizes innovation and deployment of district-scale best practices to create the neighborhoods of the future - resilient, vibrant, resource efficient and just.”

EcoDistricts, formerly Portland Sustainability Institute or PoSI, has identified potential EcoDistrict-qualifying projects, including: smart grid, bike sharing, green streets, urban agriculture, car sharing, green maps, district composting, zero-waste programs, rainwater harvesting and sidewalk improvements.

Eight performance areas have been identified by EcoDistricts and presented in the framework that communities can measure to assess their own progress:

  1. Equitable Development
  2. Health & Wellbeing
  3. Community Identity
  4. Access & Mobility
  5. Energy
  6. Water
  7. Habitat & Ecosystem Function
  8. Materials Management

EcoDistricts led city teams through their framework via hands-on collaboration with facilitators who attended previous Incubators. The EcoDistricts framework is was developed by leaders who had experience transforming Portland into a leader of urban sustainability. EcoDistricts engages visiting teams via a four-phased approach:

  1. District Organization: Create a shared vision and governance structure to ensure that a neighborhood has the capacity and resources to implement its vision (EcoDistricts, May 2014).
  2. District Assessment: A neighborhood assessment is essential to determine the most effective project priorities, appropriate projects, and greatest impact (EcoDistricts, May 2014).
  3. Project Development & Delivery: Projects require careful alignment and coordination between district stakeholders, private developers, public agencies, and utilities (EcoDistricts, May 2014).
  4. District Monitoring: EcoDistricts projects are planned and built, ongoing monitoring is essential to understand the full range of social, economic, and environmental impacts (EcoDistricts, May 2014).

Essentially, the four phases listed here are the “how” to move the idea(s) forward. These four phases are discussed further in the EcoDistrict framework available for download via their website

Michigan State University Extension team offers educational programs in several leadership areas, including communicating through conflict, volunteer board development, meeting management and facilitation skills development, and organizational strategic visioning and planning.  To contact an expert in your area, visit  or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).


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