Author: Alyse Horn-Pyatt
The EcoDistricts Incubator is a program that was created by the national EcoDistricts organization in Oregon. Every year since the incubator began it has been held in Portland, but for the first time this year it will be held in Pittsburgh at the Millvale Food + Energy Hub.
The three-day intensive workshop brings together teams of people throughout the country and internationally to begin developing an ecodistrict plan for their neighborhoods and build on their existing plans. Ecodistricts implement sustainable development that are defined by communities and follow the EcoDistricts Protocol.
Zaheen Hussain, Director of Sustainability at New Sun Rising, said there are a number of different reasons for the incubator to be moved to Pittsburgh, one being that the area is the most active cluster in the country surrounding ecodistrict planning.
“It’s exciting to see something like this happening here and opening up the opportunity for teams to be able to attend that otherwise might not be able to afford the time, money, and capacity to take a week and go to Portland,” Hussain said.
In the past there have been six to 11 participating teams from as far as New Zealand and South Africa; this year will include: Beaver County, Beltzhoover, Etna, Hill District, Larimer, MetroHealth in Cleveland, Millvale, Oakland, Quaker Valley Council of Governments, Sharpsburg, Uptown, the Slavic Village in Cleveland, and Wilkinsburg.
Although Larimer was the first community in the region to start talking about ecodistricts, this will also be its first incubator. Uptown attended the EcoDistrict Incubator in 2014 and Millvale went in 2016, while Homewood participated in 2017. Hussain said Millvale and the New Sun Rising team were able to attend the incubator three years ago through a Neighborhood Allies grant with the stipulation that “‘If we fund you, how are you going to make sure what you learn can be shared with the Pittsburgh community?'”
In November 2016, seven months after Millvale attended the EcoDistrict Incubator, Hussain and Brian Wolovich hosted a mini-incubator that condensed the three-day program into one Saturday workshop. Two of the teams that attended from Sharpsburg and Etna had shown a lot of excitement and that sparked the idea for the Triboro Ecodistrict, an initiative of New Sun Rising which Wolovich is the director.
“Millvale had the opportunity to go to Portland [for the incubator], and we felt that Etna and Sharpsburg deserved that opportunity but we didn’t have the funding so we had to think about bringing [the incubator] here,” Hussain said.
Because EcoDistricts works with teams from all over the world, they focus on global facilitation of the protocols, but the upcoming incubator has been specialized for the region and will allow facilitators to dig into more localized issues.
The master facilitator for the event is Christine Mondor of evolveEA who originally helped the community of Millvale develop their Millvale Ecodistrict Pivot Plan in 2012 and eventually Pivot 2.0 in 2016. Hussain said during this incubator New Sun Rising and community stakeholders will begin developing its 3.0 plan while other teams will be focusing on 2.0 or constructing the first phases of their ecodistrict plan.
“What we and EcoDistricts are trying to do for the first time is be more intentional around who the facilitators are and setting up meetings in advance so that teams can relay what their needs are,” Hussain said.
The incubator will run from April 25-27, and on that Saturday the Triboro Ecodistrict communities will gather to discuss what has and has not been working for them thus far. Wolovich said he is keen on getting feedback from facilitators and to hear from others on how the Triboro Ecodistrict can move forward.
Daniel Rossi-Keen, Executive Director of RiverWise in Beaver County, is attending the incubator and said he is excited to be part of the conversation and think about sustainable community development “and learning from a mix of folks with similar problems.”
“There should be a wide range of conversations and the more we are able to expose communities to creative solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems, the more success we have moving forward,” Rossi-Keen said.
EvolveEA, New Sun Rising, and EcoDistricts have been working closely to plan this years incubator. Hussain said there will be 100 people or so packed into the Millvale Food + Energy Hub over the three-days and that “it’s going to be cozy, but good.”
“Moving this [from Portland] to the Millvale Food + Energy Hub speaks for itself about the level of commitment that we’ve been putting in over the years,” Wolovich said. “It’s recognition of those efforts.”
The annual EcoDistricts Summit will also be held in Pittsburgh this year on November 4-5.
For more information on ecodistricts, click here.