BY JULIETTE BEALE
Last week marked the third annual Ecodistricts Summit, a gathering of planners, policy analysts, architects, engineers, academics, and students interested in learning or sharing more about sustainable community building. This year’s topics included sustainable neighborhoods, district development, energy planning and district/community financing, with case studies from Holland, Switzerland, Australia, and Seattle.
Carol Coletta, Director of ArtPlace – an initiative created by six major banks, several foundations, and the National Endowment for the Arts – delivered the keynote address Wednesday night. Based in Chicago, ArtPlace strives to renew urban neighborhoods and communities through investing in the arts and culture. Coletta, who previously served as president of CEOs For Cities, opened by affirming, “It is the week of cities.”
Citing many sources from the New York Times to Business Week, she repeatedly emphasized that there is great new energy in urbanism. Today 40 percent more young people are living in cities than in the past thirty years. People are drawn to cities for their walkability, amenities, jobs, housing, and culture.
Not only do cities offer great lifestyle opportunities, Coletta reminded the audience, but they also make financial sense. Urban living saves people money. In New York City, to cite one of the strongest examples, $19 billion is saved each year from city residents collectively not driving. “We are in a moment when compact cites make more sense than ever and the market is saying bring it on,” she added.
Coletta went on to discuss how ArtPlace is accelerating the urban draw through creative placemaking. When surveyed about what connects them to their cities, urban residents were less likely to have schools and jobs at the top of their lists. Instead, social offerings, openness, and aesthetics were the key attributes. Coletta further suggested that what she called “distinctiveness” plays a critical role in place making. Citing the example of a Parisian Boulevard study where classic Paris streets were overtaken by globalized American shops, she noted, “When a place feels like everywhere it feels like nowhere.”
For this reason, a major area of ArtPlace’s research is creating metrics for measuring vibrancy, diversity, and distinctiveness in cities and clearly demonstrating how the arts play critical roles in promoting these attributes. These metrics provide the basis for ArtPlace to issue grants to various arts and cultural organizations looking to renew their neighborhoods.
In closing, Coletta offered that the principles, metrics, and attributes behind the work of ArtPlace are very similar to Ecodistricts. These organizations need to draw from each other’s strengths to broaden their own guidelines and district thinking.
She also mentioned that Portland is positioned in a unique place: “If I had to praise Portland on anything it would be the unusual courage it takes to recognize your distinctiveness and lift it up and act on it. Not many cities are willing to do that.”
As the keynote speech and the Ecodistricts Summit as a whole suggests, district-wide urban and sustainability initiatives are gaining incredible ground across the country and world-wide. Last week, the AIA Committee on the Environment hosted a Pecha Kucha night where Vince Martinez of Architecture 2030 shared information about Seattle’s 2030 District. The District’s plans include stringent building energy performance targets as well as district transportation and water consumption energy reduction goals. Other cities including Pittsburg, Cleveland, and Los Angeles are creating 2030 Districts. Will one of Portland’s Ecodistricts be next?