Ottawa eco-district proponents call for collaboration

Mark Brownlee
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Those hoping to create a downtown “eco-district,” showcasing the city’s environmental sustainable practices, must clearly demonstrate the value of working together to Ottawa’s business community for the initiative to get off the ground, according to one expert.

(Darren Brown)

That was the advice from Marcel Acosta, the executive director of the National Capital Planning Commission in Washington, D.C., in a speech on Thursday morning.

Mr. Acosta oversaw the creation of Washington’s eco-district, which is essentially a set of environmental standards building operators in a given part of the city are asked to follow.

Several Ottawa businesses – including local developers Minto and Windmill – have expressed interest in a similar concept for Ottawa’s central business district. Local organizers say its key characteristics would include voluntary sustainability guidelines and opportunities to collaborate on initiatives such as common heating and cooling systems, or recycling programs.

However the group’s organizers believe it’s about five years behind Washington. The best way to speed up the process would be to demonstrate how businesses will benefit in terms of cost savings, meeting government efficiency targets or as a demonstration of a corporation’s values, said Mr. Acosta.

“The key is to figure out how each constituent or stakeholder would benefit from the eco-district,” he said in an interview following his talk at city hall. “The private sector or private business, the landowner, the government has to have some tangible benefit.”

The area that’s been proposed for this city, known as the Ottawa Centre eco-district, would stretch from Bronson Avenue in the west to the Rideau Canal in the east, then north from Gloucester Street to the Ottawa River.

Demonstrating the value of collaboration to reduce energy use is the main appeal of using the eco-district concept to improve a city’s environmental sustainability, said Mr. Acosta.

He talked about how one of the eco-districts in Washington, for example, is working on an underground storage system for collecting stormwater run-off from buildings.

The Ottawa eco-district is still in the early planning stages. Over the next twelve months the organization hopes to set up some basic infrastructure, such as a board of directors, and collaborate with others such as the City of Ottawa.

It has drawn up a business case for the eco-district, which is available on its website.

Organizations: National Capital Planning Commission, Ottawa Centre

Geographic location: Ottawa, Washington, D.C., Bronson Avenue Gloucester Street Ottawa.It

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