San Francisco’s Planning Department is working with California’s sustainability guidelines to structure growth within the city in accordance with the state’s requirements and the city’s goals through the department’s Sustainability Development Program. The program aims to reduce water consumption, reduce waste and enhance community-scale energy resources. To aid in the fulfillment of these goals, the program is implementing a tool called Eco-Districts – a community of property owners, businesses and residents within a neighborhood that collaborate to develop and initiate sustainable development projects in their area. Using a set of performance metrics, neighborhoods can shape their projects with custom strategies for their community.
The Eco-District is fundamentally a community-driven development that has the potential to achieve the smart growth of sustainable ideas but also build local urban identity and enforce a sense of place among its residents. The Eco-District movement has already taken shape in Austin (TX), Boston (MA), Seattle (WA), Washington DC, and Portland (OR) in various degrees of development. San Francisco’s adoption of this tool will help drive the successes of the Sustainability Development Program with a focus on holistic approaches of neighborhood development and support with environmentally conscious improvements.
Read on for more on San Francisco’s Eco-Districts.
San Francisco’s Planning Department has identified four types of Eco-Districts: The Blank Slate, The Patchwork Quilt, The Strengthened Neighborhood and the Industrial Network. Eco-Districts have a developed roadmap: establishing the framework, organizing government and community engagement, assessment, and policy and finance, which is ultimately distributed to projects concerning buildings and infrastructure and people and education. However, within this general framework, each Eco-District typology has a unique set of steps and guides that work best for the quality and character of existing development.
The Blank Slate sounds exactly like what it is. This type of eco-district is typically composed of swaths of undeveloped land owned by a single property owner. The development of this type of eco-district allows for the accommodation of the most basic infrastructural elements in accordance with sustainability practices that includes energy, water, and waste infrastructure systems built in preparation for eventual vertical development. It can also be thought to provide the most optimal and comprehensive sustainable development.
The Patchwork Quilt is a combination of undeveloped, underdeveloped and developed land owned by different property owners. Projects may also be developing under different time frames in this type of Eco-District, creating a neighborhood in constant flux. The planning department focuses on aligning the development time frames of various projects within the Eco-District to maximize infrastructural improvements within the frame of environmental goals. It works closely with the community to build improvements within the context of the existing neighborhood character, as well as integrate the physical qualities of the neighborhood.
The Strengthened Neighborhood consists of already developed and supported residential communities and their commercial corridors. The strategy for this type of Eco-Districts is to support eco-friendly behavior and provide guides for improvements rather than growth. These improvements are considered within the context of the already developed character of the neighborhood.
The Industrial Network type of Eco-District focuses closely at the connections between the city’s production, distribution and repair uses. In this case the planning department focuses on streamlining these industries and development efficient systems by which these different facets of industry can work together.
The first Eco-Districts to be developed by San Francisco’s Planning Department is the Central Corridor, a Type 2 Patchwork Quilt District identified for redevelopment in August 2012. As the 24-square-block area of the neighborhood currently undergoes planning and rezoning to accommodate the new Central Subway, a growing urban population and its economic viability, it was selected to be developed using Eco-District strategy. In an article on SPUR, Sustainable Development Policy Director Laura Tam, details the diversity of opportunity that the Central Corridor offers for public and private investment and the areas which would benefit from sustainable development on the neighborhood scale.
The Central Corridor Eco-District is in its first stages of development with the first phase being to organize a neighborhood governing entity to manage district sustainable and identify how it will progress. As a whole, the Eco-District is aiming to meet the city’s environmental goals of greenhouse gas reductions, zero waste, water conservation and efficiency, storm water management, renewable energy, transportation and more. Tam mentions that the “‘all-of-the-above, everywhere’ approach” to sustainable development may falter here, which is why the focus of the Eco-District will help orient its efficiency. ”Some things stand out as real possibilities to accelerate sustainability,” she writes, “In these cases, proximity to a specific project or opportunity — and to property owners interested in making it happen — could make all the difference.”
Among these advantages is the opportunity to aggregate resources to invest in energy and water systems – community shared solar development, on site water treatment, recycling water, waste management, or street landscape irrigation. The Eco-District Organizations also have the potential to reach out to private property owners and help coordinate their sustainability development within the context of the neighborhood.
Some specific ideas already emerged concerning the Central Corridor’s development. One idea is to implement stormwater collection through the foundations of existing and proposed buildings that are below the water table, diverting this excess water from entering the sewer system. Another example is implementing storm water collection under Highway 80 that runs through the district, where it could be captured and redirected to community and rooftop gardens. Like the proposals from Under the Elevated by the Design Trust, this could be an opportunity to host infrastructural facilities under an underused infrastructural asset. The city has released a Draft Plan in April 2013 for public review, using community engagement to contribute to the planning development.
Optimizing the sustainable improvements of the Central Corridor, and future Eco-Districts, requires analyzing the existing conditions and their potential development. This includes analysis of the existing built-up conditions as well as the environmental factors, such as solar and wind analysis, water flow, energy use and heat gain. These factors play into the future assessment and development of sustainable systems that can then be introduced to private and public investors. Ultimately, the success of Eco-District’s implementation rests on collaboration between the city’s planning department and the stakeholders willing to participate in the development of sustainable neighborhoods.