By Jim Newman, USGBC MA Board & Linnean Solutions
The annual EcoDistrict summit was held for the first time outside of Portland, Oregon this year at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC) in the city’s Innovation District. This area of South Boston’s waterfront, also known as the Seaport, has thrived because of elements most valued by the EcoDistricts organization
such as public-private partnerships, the entrepreneurial spirit, and an emphasis on collaboration.
At the summit, more than 90 speakers shared their visions of vibrant, healthy, equitable neighborhoods and how urban leaders can support these cutting-edge communities. From microgrids to green infrastructure to the sustainable transformation of London’s Olympic Village, inspiration came from all corners. It was this very diversity that tied the summit together.
Diversity discussions focused on more than race and ethnicity, although major disparities based on zip codes were discussed in a poignant presentation from Bay Area educator and innovator Antwi Akom
. As part of the same first-morning plenary, April Rinne's talk on collaborative consumption underscored how we stand on the cusp of a diverse new economy–sharing cars, tools, and decision-making about how we build communities.
During the individual education-session periods, there was an equally exciting array of topics. For example, the Wednesday afternoon sessions covered how the world’s megacities are responding to climate change. EcoDistricts in the Innovation District (this featured Linnean Solutions’ work) discussed issues such as social equity, resource boundaries, and district energy.
Both before and after the summit’s BCEC program, events took place around the city that allowed attendees to see how Boston is also embracing the EcoDistricts principles in diverse ways. The first event was a legacy project charrette in Dorchester’s Talbot-Norfolk Triangle (TNT)Eco-Innovation District
, which has a LEED-ND Platinum rating as its main goal.
Four site tours were held, as well as a training and research symposium at Northeastern University. The site tours explored the TNT as well as Jackson and Eggleston Squares in Jamaica Plain, Kendall Square and MIT in Cambridge, and a walking tour of the Innovation District.
Each of these provided visitors with views of potential ecodistricts at various points in their evolution.
The diversity of people, places, and ideas represented at the 2013 Summit paralleled what makes a great EcoDistrict: many different individuals coming together with the common goal of building a vital, sustainable, and just community.