The EcoDistricts Protocol

Date Posted: 03.01.2016

By Debra Guenther

The Challenge: How to Live in Cities

Mithun believes in the power of collective thinking to find solutions to our biggest challenge – how we live in cities. We rise to this challenge with optimistic creativity and integrated strategies, as well as a profound sense of obligation to future generations and our global community. By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to be living in cities. In this time of rapid change and urbanization, we need to adapt effectively in response.

Today we see a vast and growing equity gap resulting from the built environment – where the zip code a child is born into has a bigger role in determining their future than any other factor. Worldwide, a number of complex issues are colliding – income, education and health disparities that sit at the root of considerable social unrest; ecological degradation; the growing threat of climate change; and the burden of producing 80% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions while consuming 75% of the world’s energy.

There is a growing appetite for innovation as cities seek competitive advantage to attract talent and investment, to embrace aging and historically disenfranchised populations, enhance prosperity, deliver sustained opportunity and respond intelligently to a rapidly changing climate.

Neighborhoods are the soul and lifeblood of the city. And they can become the building blocks of sustainable cities. While neighborhoods and districts sit at the heart of some of the most complex challenges facing placemakers today, they provide a uniquely valuable scale to introduce and accelerate innovation to achieve profound improvements in equity, resiliency and climate protection.  Neighborhoods and districts are small enough to innovate and big enough to leverage long-term investment and public policy. How we live in cities – from the neighborhood up – is the biggest challenge of our lifetime.

The Response: A New Model of Urban Regeneration

The EcoDistrict Protocol is a process-based framework and certification standard that empowers equitable, resilient, sustainable neighborhoods and districts for all. It is the heart of EcoDistricts’ work. Mithun is a founder of EcoDistricts and collaborated to develop an early prototype of the protocol. Our teams have tested the approach on projects for Little Tokyo in Los Angeles and Sun Valley in Denver, and we are launching into new work for the City of Boulder’s Civic Center EcoDistrict.

The protocol process puts a comprehensive lens on every urban regeneration decision around equity, resilience, and climate. It requires the identification of priority areas. Teams must deliver meaningful performance outcomes regarding place, prosperity, health and wellbeing, connectivity, ecosystem health and resource protection. As the team moves through the project, implementation tools such as the EcoDistricts Roadmap define the conditions for sustainable, collaborative impact.

Raising the Bar on Understanding Performance

EcoDistricts will roll out the protocol – a living document that will continue to evolve and adapt – at the EcoDistricts Summit in Denver fall 2016. The protocol is designed to support the industry in becoming facile with the use of metrics and further define our understanding of what makes a great metric to measure success. This provides an important voice for neighborhoods and districts to identify their priorities and vision for long-term resilience, and define specific targets to work towards.

As part of the Summit, Mithun partner and EcoDistricts board member Deb Guenther will join representatives from the Urban Land Institute’s Resilience Program and the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s Performance Series program in a panel discussion called “Finding a Common Language: Performance Metrics for Key Stakeholders.” Deb will share the evolution in Mithun’s understanding of what makes effective metrics, and how metrics can transform the physical design of projects.

The EcoDistricts Protocol is an evolving approach – a collaborative process that builds on the existing catalysts in neighborhoods to create the momentum, the governance, and the targets that will advance communities. The results are a higher quality of life today and a way of life for future generations.