Millvale ecodistrict. Courtesy evolveEA.

L.A., Austin, Miami and . . . Millvale?

This month’s announcement that Millvale was awarded a National Planning Achievement Award from the American Planning Association (APA) thrust the small riverside community into the national spotlight as a model of environmental planning.

It’s also the latest feather in the cap of Christine Mondor, principal at evolveEA and primary consultant to Millvale’s Ecodistrict Plan since the project began in 2012.

“We heard in February we had won the award but couldn’t say anything until May,” says Mondor. “A small town being recognized at the national level is really exciting.”

Millvale was awarded Silver in the “environmental planning” category and was one of only 12 award recipients nationwide. The Ecodistrict Pivot Plan surveyed residents on six key areas: energy, water, food, mobility, air, and equity. Some of the most visible results include a proliferation of solar panels and rain gardens throughout the community.  The community is currently on phase 2.0 of the Pivot Plan, which will further the original goals of the ecodistrict plan and focus on improving air quality, mobility and equity.

Mondor stresses that for a program like this to be successful, the community not only has to be engaged but must also understand the process in order to “elevate the community values and not just build buildings.”

“We thought it was a good example of how a community can come together and change its local outcome for the best,” says W. Shedrick Coleman, jury chairman for this year’s APA awards. “[Millvale] should be proud of the effort they made and the recognition they received. It should serve as a model for other communities around the country and possibly around the world.”

Mondor and evolveEA received a grant in 2011 for ecodistrict funding from the state Department of Environmental Protection. She had already begun ecodistrict work in Larimer before a chance encounter with New Sun Rising‘s Brian Wolovich, who convinced her to bring her expertise to Millvale.

Wolovich says that while he and his partners had been engaged in specific projects to increase sustainability in Millvale, they lacked an overall vision and a way to see how the projects could fit into a larger, community-wide system. That is, until they began working with Mondor.

“This exists because of evolve,” says Wolovich. “We didn’t bring this to [Christine]. The narrative sometimes gets mixed up. I can’t underscore enough that she could have taken [the ecodistrict grant] anywhere.”

“She is an amazing talent combined with an amazing sense of humility and caring.”

Mondor, who sits on the faculty of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Architecture, also serves separately as head of the Pittsburgh Planning Commission. Asked what comes next for her, she says she hopes to continue working with her partners in Millvale to expand the ecodistrict into neighboring communities.

“Pittsburgh is in a time of growth, a time of confidence, and we’ve got a number of things aligned in our public sector and our private sector and nonprofit sectors that can enable us to push ahead.”

Brian Conway is a writer and photographer whose articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and local publications. In his free time, he operates Tripsburgh. Brian lives in the South Side.