When we talk about “sustainability” our attention is now better served in the discussion of micro-communities and how long-term ecological practices can make bigger impacts on multiple, smaller scales. Micro-communities with sustainability plans that have been fully tailored to their residents, climate, landscape, size, and culture are far better served in the long-run than by broad-based models like the UN’s “Healthy Cities” plan. Enter eco-districts, a small-scaled sustainable neighborhood planning practice which better enhances the lives of community members through locally-driven leadership and empowerment. These models are now being applied within cities across North America.
Here we will explore what we know to be the important foundation of a successful eco-district – sustainable urban agriculture initiatives. From reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to creating local economic prosperity, a well-executed urban agriculture plan will drive the success of an eco-district in any city. Think of it as a web. At the heart we have sustainable local food systems, and branching out from this point we have energy efficiency, water conservation, improved air quality, diverse education, social strengthening, health improvements, and commercial opportunity.
The idea of the eco-district has been recreated all over the world. However, it was the Portland Sustainability Institute that created a specific framework for assessing, planning, and building what they call the EcoDistrict. The principle of the EcoDistrict concept is to bring together community stakeholders both from the public and private sectors to collaborate and sustainably build a vibrant, resilient, and resourcefully efficient neighborhood that will benefit locals long into the future. With a healthy and engaged community at the core, an EcoDistrict can prosper and continue to drive long-term benefits for years to come.
Eco-Districts Benefit From Urban Agriculture
The idea of any eco-district is to be entirely community focused. With this priority in mind, it’s no wonder cities that have implemented one or more eco-districts are seeing continual improvements in the health and well-being, the social stability, and the economic development of these sustainable neighborhoods.
Eco-districts employing a strong urban agriculture plan understand the significant impact that access to healthy and locally-grown food has on community residents. A secure, local food system in the heart of an eco-district provides the following benefits for its community:
- economic opportunities (specialty restaurants, farmers’ markets, and building integrated agriculture)
- educational and training outcomes
- mental and physical well-being as attributed to biophilia
- vibrant green spaces for safe and secure social gatherings
- solutions to mitigate stormwater and harvest rainwater
- composting and waste reduction capabilities
- natural wildlife habitat protection
- provision of purified urban air
- reduction of greenhouse gas emissions caused by transportation
Kinsman EcoDistrict, Cleveland OH
The Kinsman EcoDistrict is the City of Cleveland’s solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating ecological neighborhoods to further their Sustainable Cleveland 2019 program. What makes the Kinsman EcoDistrict so dynamic is the local food mission driven by the Urban Agriculture Innovation Zone. The Zone is turning vacant and unused property into places for food production businesses to prosper in an area that was once a food desert. Economically, socially, and environmentally, the Zone is shifting the neighborhood and strengthening the community. Businesses are prospering, jobs are being created, and residents are enjoying varied fresh-food options from markets and greenhouses.
The Kinsman EcoDistrict beautifully represents the potential benefits of a thriving urban agriculture plan at the heart of a sustainable micro-community.
If your community has a thriving urban agriculture plan that’s positively impacting its surrounding neighborhood, then we want to know about it! Send us your take on local food systems and eco-districts.
Feature Image: The Lloyd Eco-District in Portland, Oregon. Image via City of Portland.