Etna EcoDistrict enjoying success, making big plans for future

Monday, September 9, 2019 | 12:01 AM


Architect Christine Mondor views the “stone soup” European folk tale — people each parting with meager ingredients until a soup is prepared that satisfies everyone — as a metaphor for the Etna EcoDistrict planning process.

“We’ve spent the past two years creating visions, and you all have been bringing things to the pot and now you have to keep eating and keep meeting and keep making stone soup,” Mondor, evolveEA strategic principal, said Sept. 4 as her sustainable architecture and consulting firm led its final Etna EcoDistrict planning meeting.

“Together, we have been shaping a future that is more equitable and more sustainable,” Robert Tunon, Etna Community Organization (ECO) volunteer said of the initiative focusing on water, mobility, air quality, energy, food and social equity.

Anna Rosenblum, evolveEA senior project manager, reviewed the project’s history with Fugh’s Hall’s full crowd. In 2018, meeting attendees completed quality of life surveys informing planners, for instance, that people lack public transit to local grocery stores.

The group held education meetings on each of the EcoDistrict’s plan’s components.

“At the food one, we learned that it was important to have healthy and fresh food within walking distance. We learned that that food should be affordable. That you are really interested in composting, which I was really interested in hearing about, as well as a need for more staple businesses, like bakeries and butcher shops,” Rosenblum said.

In January, New Sun Rising and ECO sponsored an idea round-up leading to five groups receiving $2,000 each in funding to implement projects focusing on air, mobility, water, energy and food.

During meetings people also discussed the Garden of Etna’s possible expansion, renewable energy financing and grants, and their favorite borough locations and places that had room for improvement.

In June, evolveEA and ECO volunteers presented a series of design proposals based on the last two years’ information. The group presented feedback, which the leaders compiled into a 27-page report.

“We wanted to make sure that we have the things that are already happening, the things that are going to happen, provide recommendations to pull it all together,” said Rosenblum.

Following the presentation, guests walked around Fugh Hall to view displays with the plan’s goals for implementation by 2030, some means of achieving the goals, a timeline for doing so and a means of measuring the achievements. For example, air improvement goals include “to convert underutilized land among primary connections into green space,” and “increase green space in different parts of Etna.” Food goals are to “improve food security, localize the food system, improve nutritional health and wellness, minimize environmental impact.” Specifically, there currently are 34 food locations in Etna, and organizers want to increase the number to 45 by 2030.

Guests placed stickers near ideas they loved, liked or disliked and affixed sticky notes with their ideas for plan elements.

“How can we make this happen? Is there an organization that we should be working with? Is there someone who would be interested in funding this? What are your ideas for how we can actually activate this plan?” Rosenblum asked.

“A lot of us can have an ingredient, we can have something that we are doing, but until we bring it together and put it in the pot and work together on things we can’t advance to get it to the scale that it needs to be long term or to have sustainability,” Mondor said.

Alexis Boytim, former AmeriCorps VISTA through New Sun Rising, had worked to support the Triboro EcoDistrict composed of Millvale, Sharpsburg and Etna. She now will oversee the Etna EcoDistrict plan’s management as ECO director.