Etna seeks world’s first EcoDistricts certification -

Etna seeks world’s first EcoDistricts certification

Wednesday, October 23, 2019 | 12:01 AM

More than 400 people are expected to attend the 10th annual EcoDistricts Summit on Nov. 4 and 5 at The August Wilson African American Cultural Center, downtown.

Kathy Risko, EcoDistricts Pittsburgh regional coordinator, said “it is the hope” her organization will announce that Etna has obtained the world’s first EcoDistricts certification.

“The values that come out of certification, or the protocol are things like dealing with connectivity and living and infrastructure and health and well-being and prosperity, which would include equity. How to create inclusive and vibrant communities. I mean, I think these are things that all municipalities should want to do,” she said.

Robert Tunon, Etna Community Organization (ECO) board member, said Etna’s team worked on its certification application and community improvement efforts concurrently. The applicants had to demonstrate that their plan involved collaboration, a commitment to equity, resiliency, and environmental stewardship. The final component is Etna’s EcoDistrict plan focusing on air quality, food, mobility, energy, water and social equity improvements.

Three hundred and fifty people have devoted at least two hours to volunteering and contributing ideas to Etna’s EcoDistrict planning process, Tunon said.

“In total, the community had 35 public events and different opportunities to engage in the work. We worked incredibly hard to make sure that this was a very public and equitable process.”

EvolveEA Sustainable Architecture & Consulting Firm led three planning meetings as part of the model.

“It has never been about that particular achievement, any award. It’s never about that. It’s always about, how do we become a healthier, safer community? It’s certainly a validation of the work, and it creates accountability, but it always, always has been about our community becoming stronger.”

“It means so very much to all of us here in the community,” Borough Manager Mary Ellen Ramage said. “This recognizes the hard work of so many people who, whether in the past helped to build a solid foundation of sustainable practices like our stormwater management focus, or who have taken the mantle up now to extend policies and practices of sustainability, inclusion and engagement to all of our collective work. There are many hands who have contributed to this effort and we are grateful to them all.”

In 2016, Etna, Millvale and Sharpsburg leaders started collaborating on the Triboro EcoDistrict planning process. Brian Wolovich, Triboro EcoDistrict director, said the goal was to consider Millvale’s EcoDistrict work, made possible through his social enterprise incubator New Sun Rising, and to consider how NSR could collaborate with other communities to “take on sustainable development goals at a community scale.”

Wilkinsburg, Homewood and Larimar representatives attended the initial meeting, in addition to those from Etna and Sharpsburg.

“If there wasn’t an interest in Etna and Sharpsburg in doing this kind of work, we didn’t want to try to force any agenda on another community. So, we’re like, ‘Hey, we’re doing a lot of things that are working and a lot of things that aren’t working; we’re figuring it out.’ And we just thought there was an opportunity for collaboration. And what was really great was just the enthusiastic response from the communities in figuring it out and moving forward,” Wolovich recalled.

Alexis Boytim, ECO director, is overseeing the plan as it moves forward. Two key projects consuming her time are the development of the Etna Community Library and the Etna ECO Park. The latter of which will consist of a 37 Grant Ave. parklet addressing the Etna EcoDistrict’s quality of life issues. She will organize community engagement workshops starting in 2020 to determine what people want to see in the park.

“It can’t be stressed enough that this work is built upon what Millvale started, what evolveEA helped Larimar do however long ago, many years ago. We wouldn’t be where we are now without all the work that has gone on throughout the Pittsburgh region so far, so we owe it all to our predecessors for building the foundation,” Boytim said.

The Etna EcoDistrict project was possible through a Triboro EcoDistrict grant by the Henry L. Hillman Foundation.