2016 EcoDistrict Summit Part 1

September 20, 2016


Millvale Sustainability Coordinator, Zaheen Hussain was in Denver last week, September 13th-15th at the EcoDistrict National Summit in Denver, Colorado.  Zaheen, alongside Christine Mondor, and Anna Rosenblum of evoveEA, presented on bottom-up community engagement to transform a community, using the EcoDistrict planning process as a platform.  The following blog series is a diary recount of Zaheen’s experience at the summit.  The Millvale Sustainability Coordinator position is supported by the Millvale Community Library as a shared resource to forward the Millvale Community’s goals in sustainability.

Hello from Denver, Colorado!  Host city of the 2016 Ecodistrict Summit.  For those who don’t know, Millvale has adopted the EcoDistrict Planning Process as its primary platform to implement sustainable community development projects through the year 2030.  You can find our road map, known as the Millvale EcoDistrict Pivot 2.0 here!

The venue is cool, the presentations are engaging, and the speakers have all been fantastic and knowledgable.  Through this week, I will be writing a blog highlighting our experiences here in Colorado as we continue to deepen our understanding around sustainable community redevelopment.

If I had to pick one word to define what day one has been about, it’s Equity.  Equity has been at the tip of everyone’s tongue, a big component of nearly everyone’s presentation, and certainly a favorite component of Millvale’s EcoDistrict Plan, known as Pivot, among the Millvale crew.  

So, what is equity?  Equity to us represents fairness in the context of sustainable community redevelopment.  Ensuring that as communities change, the beneficiaries aren’t limited to just those with resources, but are shared among all hard-working people.  In lesser words, how do we work together to make sure people in the community are taken care of, have affordable housing, are connected to jobs, and positively impact the environment?

It’s often easy for everyone to get really excited about big flashy neighborhood redevelopment projects with all the bells and whistles of modern technology, modern landscaping and architecture, promoting every modern buzzword that can be  thought of.  One fundamental step many have either forgotten or not realized the importance of was actually thinking about whether or not these projects actually benefit who they are meant to benefit – the community.

Although we can lament about how we as a field (well, any field really) tend to lift up whatever buzzword is trendy in those years, it’s certainly refreshing to see that developers, and local leaders are working to get out front of the curve in addressing equity gaps in a way that almost seems too obvious.

What’s inspiring isn’t really any one project.  In fact, I frankly can’t specifically recall them.  It was more that the first thing people were talking about wasn’t the environment, or profit, but more importantly, how does planning positively impact a whole community of people first.  It seems tied to a belief that if we take a systems approach to focus on people first, especially those who have been long committed to a community, that the environmental and economic benefits we desire will follow as a part of that system.

We heard from keynote speakers like Rohit Malotra, who was inspiring leaders to put more of an emphasis on building trust in a community, to Ryan Gravel, who helped us think more about how infrastructure can work to connect people to each other as well as to job opportunities.  Gulgun Kayim showed us that art can instill pride and participation in a community, and Glenn Harris spoke on inclusivity being a key component of true community driven change with long term shared success.  

Not only was it nice to be inspired by the leaders in the sustainability field from around the world, but great to know that the leaders within the Borough of Millvale, the Millvale Community Development CorporationMillvale Community Library, and cross-community partners like New Sun Rising have the right idea too.  

Equity also happens to be one of six programming areas in Millvale’s EcoDistrict Plan (Food, Water, Energy, Air, and Mobility being the others), within which we have the goal of Millvale being a “place of self-determination, where Millvalians are able to participate and shape their future as well as the future of others.”

So what does it all boil down to?  For me, it’s participation.  If we work hard to drive more resident participation in community meetings, local government, and volunteer opportunities, we will arrive at a truer reflection of community needs in order to work to address those needs.  In order to drive participation, not only should we make the option of participation available, but make it truly accessible and inclusive.  This starts with educating the community, but more importantly, it highlights the importance of actually listening to the community.  Development can’t be for the benefit of just the developer, it also has to be to the benefit of the residents those developments should be striving to serve.  As I work through the support of the Millvale Library to serve the entire community, I’m proud to say that the Millvale Library is a fantastic resource for residents to plug into all the great things happening in Millvale.

That’s all from Tuesday!  We’re looking forward to our presentation on Wednesday.  Hoping everyone is enjoying the lead-up to Millvale Days!


Lunch for the day: Arepas from the Arepa Food Truck

The views reflected in the blog are opinions of Zaheen Hussain as observed at the Summit

Many thanks to Neighborhood Allies and The Henry L. Hillman Foundation for supporting our attendance at the summit.

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