The Neighborhood Is at the Heart of Our Work


By: Rob Bennett, CEO, EcoDistricts

At EcoDistricts, we feel strongly that it is time to advance a new model of urban regeneration that puts sustainability square in the middle of it.

While the urban regeneration movement is punctuated by incredible bouts of innovation, propelled in large part by the willingness of industry leaders to mobilize, launch new markets, take risks and rethink old paradigms, there is a need to accelerate our work and impact.

After all trillions of dollars are on the line as the planet rapidly urbanizes. Cities are facing considerable social, economic and environmental challenges: Energy, water, and food shortages. Public health crises. Disenfranchised, marginalized communities. Dire climate warnings. To address these challenges, leaders are mobilizing at the neighborhood level. New partners, new technologies, new financing models, new forms of data — all in the context of the world’s largest city building effort since the dawn of humanity.

We need to get neighborhoods right.

This week, EcoDistricts asked thousands of people across our diverse network to take a simple pledge: to build a common voice, and a global community of advocates actively supporting just, sustainable and resilient neighborhoods for all.

Our call for action is not the first nor will it be the last. In the 1960s and ‘70s, community development and environmental justice advocates mobilized to disrupt large-scale “blight remediation” and pollution in cities. Citizen-driven activism like this helped forever shift how we rehabilitate urban areas, giving meaningful voice to the stakeholders and citizens who are the heart our cities.

And in the last decade, mobilization has propelled the sustainable building design market, a rethinking of our energy grid, innovation in walkability and transportation infrastructure, renewed commitment to the values of livability — accelerating industry leadership across the globe.

Yet, despite this incredible progress, our cities still face considerable social, economic and environmental challenges. Energy, water, and food shortages. Public health crises. Disenfranchised, marginalized communities. Dire climate warnings. Carbon emissions are rising faster than predicted just last year.

Neighborhood and district-scale development is messy, complicated work that will not be adequately solved unless we put collaboration, transparency and peer learning front and center. That requires mobilization across our diverse industry, putting great minds behind a common vision of the future.

EcoDistricts started as an open source invitation of local urban development leaders to re-imagine neighborhood development in our hometown of Portland, Oregon. Our big question was this: What will it take to produce substantial, scalable outcomes that address the biggest challenges facing cities today? We quickly recognized that the neighborhood (or district) provided a uniquely nimble yet scalable proving ground to answer this very question. Equally important, we heard practitioners demanding the process, guidance and resources needed to achieve better outcomes for their cities.

Equitable, holistic neighborhood-scale change is hard, but it is possible. As an urban change maker, community leader, policy maker or citizen, you know what’s at stake. And, you know we have no time to lose.

So we ask you to start small by taking the EcoDistricts Pledge and encourage your network to do the same.

With each pledge, our voice gets louder, broader, and more effective. Together, we will mobilize for the cities —and neighborhoods — of tomorrow.

From the neighborhood up!