Solar panels on the Millvale library. Brian Conway photo.

In May, when Millvale was awarded a prestigious national environmental planning award from the American Planning Association (APA), jury chairman W. Shedrick Coleman told NEXTpittsburgh that Millvale’s ecodistrict should “serve as a model for other communities around the country and possibly around the world.”

Now, just a few months later, New Sun Rising has announced the creation of the Triboro Ecodistrict, which will expand Millvale’s nationally-recognized ecodistrict model to neighboring Etna and Sharpsburg.

“We are weaving together an independent network of ecodistricts,” says Brian Wolovich, co-founder of New Sun Rising. “The key thing is helping to support the development of ecodistricts within each community.”

Partners include the Etna Economic Development Corporation, Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization and sustainable architecture and consulting firm evolveEA.

Millvale’s ecodistrict began in 2011 when evolveEA principal Christine Mondor received a grant for ecodistrict funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. (Ecodistrict work is also being done in Uptown, Larimer and Homewood.)

Millvale ecodistrict. Courtesy evolveEA.

Wolovich says that one of the first questions the partners tackled was whether to create an independent network of ecodistricts or one shared vision across communities. They ultimately decided on the former path, Wolovich says, given the tremendous success of the grassroots, years-long planning process that engaged and surveyed Millvale residents in creating a shared community vision.

“We’re not trying to astroturf our vision of the community,” says Sharpsburg Neighborhood Organization Executive Director Brittany Reno. “It’s so important to our organization, and to all the organizations, to make sure residents who are already here can benefit from the positive investments happening here today.”

Initial projects for the Triboro Ecodistrict include a community land trust expansion in partnership with the Lawrenceville Corporation, new solar panel installations, and air quality monitoring through the EPA’s Village Green Project in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.

The latter project will be spearheaded by Millvale Sustainability Coordinator, Zaheen Hussain.

“As a network of independent collaborating EcoDistricts, we see the Triboro Ecodistrict initiative as an opportunity to connect Millvale’s work with our neighbors upstream, building on our shared history and culture of working together,” says Hussain.

The ecodistrict plan focuses on six key areas: energy, water, food, air, mobility and equity. Millvale is currently on phase 2 of their ecodistrict plan, which so far has seen, among other things, the installation of green infrastructure across the borough including a host of solar-powered community buildings.

Wolovich says that the building blocks are already in place for this type of cross-municipal network, noting that Etna, Millvale and Sharpsburg have worked together in the past with the now-defunct Allegheny River Towns Enterprise Zones (ARTEZ) and that all three municipalities share joint zoning regulations and a joint comprehensive plan.

“This is a natural evolution of our work in Millvale,” says Wolovich. “We certainly want to take it to scale, and in the bigger picture this is about making a cleaner, safer region and world.”

For more information on Millvale’s award-winning Ecodistrict plan, see our October interview with New Sun Rising’s Scott and Brian Wolovich. You can also visit East End Brewing October 2 for an information session on Pittsburgh’s ecodistricts in Millvale and beyond.

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.