The Genius of the Eco-District

Eco Districts Sun Stalks

by Melissa Everett


Everything is getting worse and worse, and better and better, faster and faster. That line comes from Tom Atlee, who is a guru on “collective intelligence.” To have a shot at organizing a sufficient response to climate change, we are going to need more than individual action. We are going to need vigorous collaboration, knowledge sharing and solidarity.


We’ve been exploring one approach to promoting these – the “eco-district.” An eco-district is an area – could be a waterfront, a downtown, a mixed-use neighborhood – where people get together and organize to make the place more sustainable and resilient. The term is kind of twirpy, but the strategy is exciting. And it’s popping up in major cities from Philadelphia to Atlanta to Denver. The ingredients can include clean energy and micro-grids, bike friendly streets, pocket parks with rain gardens, public water fountains, net zero buildings… But the point is not the hardware. The point is the community figuring out the local innovations that matter most for a resilient and prosperous future, then collaborating to make them happen.

In Boston, the Eco-District is a multi-acre industrial redevelopment zone. In Atlanta it’s defined by a 25 mile green belt around the city. In our Hudson Valley communities, there may not be easy financing for such major new initiatives without years of groundwork. So we have created the Guide to Eco-Districts for Small Cities, Towns and Villages. It focuses on strategies and projects that can be done in a year, with a modest budget, through various existing organizations with a generous measure of sweat equity.


Communities are ingenious. Consider how Kingston and Ulster County are building out their trail system; Newburgh is pushing back against its drinking water pollution; Poughkeepsie is defining community in Middle Main. It’s the human connections that anchor and drive the level of inspiration we need.


Read the Guide on this site!



As heard on “Your Environment” — Mid-Hudson News, Jan. 1, 2018