New Sun Rising was proud host the day-long EcoDistricts Foundations Course
on Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017 at our HQ, The Millvale Moose, presented in partnership with The Millvale Ecodistrict, evolveEA, Green Building Alliance, Sustainable Pittsburgh and
Carnegie Mellon University. The course, facilitated by the Portland-based urban
planning and consulting group, “empowers urban development practitioners to achieve
ambitious performance outcomes in equity, resilience, and climate protection” and took
place from 9am to 4pm, drawing local and regional sustainability leaders for a day of
education, networking, and training that would prepare them in their pursuit of
EcoDistricts Certification via their AP Exam. In addition to the day-long presentation, a
45-min walking tour of the Millvale Ecodistrict was included as part of the course.

From the EcoDistricts website, “The course covers the EcoDistricts Protocol including
commitments to imperatives in the areas of equity, resilience and climate protection;
formation of a governance structure; development of a roadmap; and ongoing
performance reporting. It outlines core requirements of EcoDistricts Certified. Case
studies address lessons learned from early EcoDistricts projects and interactive working
sessions allow attendees to apply EcoDistrict concepts to a hypothetical district.”

Participants from across disciplines and organizations, both local, and regional attended
the EcoDistricts Foundations course. Many will go on to seek certification through the
AP Exam, though other motivators came to the surface as we sat down to debrief with
participants at the end of the day. Professional development, civic participation, and
personal interest, to name a few were among the driving forces for attendance.

Edward Hill works in Portland, Oregon and is currently 60 days into his on-boarding
with EcoDistricts. He says that he plans to take the Certification exam, which is an
open-book test. His interest in the field of sustainability is multifaceted, “It allows me to
serve both the community and myself, because this is also a personal passion.” He
believes in the EcoDistricts model and its ability to foster innovation within communities
because it functions “at the intersection of equality and community development.”

Mary Ellen Ramage is the Borough of Etna Manager and, after attending the
Foundations course, is now considering taking the certification exam. Sharpsburg and
Etna have a history of working together and have build upon multi-municipal
comprehensive planning with partners in Millvale, to create the “Triboro Ecodistrict”. She
notes that Etna is already pursuing many of these approaches in their community
planning but that this Foundation course has opened up her view to “a more formal
process for sustainable development that is encouraging.” Mary Ellen adds that, “this is
her passion and the lack of capacity is the main roadblock to doing more of it, but
making connections and a local network like this really helps to actualize and expedite
more of these projects.”

Miriam Parson, Pittsburgh Action Strategist for ioby, a national crowd-resourcing
platform, attended the workshop for both personal and professional reasons. “I believe
that Pittsburgh is awesome and we have the agency to build a Pittsburgh for all. The
EcoDistricts model is a process through which we can recalibrate the power dynamics
and have a Pittsburgh that is built together and thriving for all of us, not just for some.”

Connections were solidified, new friends and allies were made, and the network of
sustainable leaders in the Pittsburgh inarguably strengthened as a result of the
EcoDistricts Foundation Course. The information provided, the connections made, and
the shared tools will augment and add capacity to participants’ work going forward.

Mary Ellen Ramage adds that it has been beneficial to increase her local network
through participation in the EcoDistricts course. As a part of Etna’s Green Master Plan,
adopted three years ago, the borough acquired a property on floodplain and aspires to
transform the location into a green space. At EcoDistricts, she connected with
individuals involved in land trusts and in the day of the conference was able to reignite
and add capacity to this project in Etna.

Miriam Parson professes the strengths of community building, “It is common for
Pittsburghers to walk into a room and know half the people there – and that spirit of
collaboration is great! Going back to our personal and professional lives, we need to
keep desegregating our work, everyone in this room is working on yielding space so
that everyone is building their collective futures.”

The walking tour and presentation of Millvale as an EcoDistrict Case Study by
Sustainability Coordinator Zaheen Hussain, both surprised and inspired attendees, even
those who were previously familiar with the area.

Edward Hill of Portland was impressed by the history of flooding in the compact
downtown corridor. “The flood line, the topographical and hydrological conditions were
impressive and immediately sent me into resilience mode; The familiar narrative of
people trying to recover.” “As a planner, I liked being constrained by the corridor of the
small town.” [Grant St. and its arteries].

Mary Ellen Ramage admits that she has toured Millvale many times already as Etna
was a part of a PCRG tour that took place previously but is always inspired by the
Millvale Gardens, “they have grown and changed so much, now they are growing things
for the local businesses and, no pun intended, evolving.”

Miriam Parson returns to the most memorable part of their Millvale EcoDistrict walking
tour. “When Zaheen was giving the Millvale Garden tour, he noted the adage ‘if you
build it they will come’ is not true – people need to build what is appropriate in their own
context – it is a process of ownership – a shifting of power dynamics.”

In addition to announcing Zaheen Hussain as Director of Sustainability at New Sun Rising, the organization also announced seed funding towards the incubation of the Regional Ecodistricts Collaborative: a network of leading sustainability organizations including evolveEA, Green Builders Alliance, Sustainable Pittsburgh, Homewood Children’s Village, The City of Pittsburgh, and others. The group has shared goals to strengthen existing Ecodistricts, promote the planning and implementation of new Ecodistricts, set the regional agenda for sustainable community practices through ecodistricts, and integrate best practices into local government processes and plans.