San Francisco To Mitigate Growth and Conserve Energy Resources with Eco-Districts

San Francisco Neighborhood

Can Eco-Districts help a major city grow sustainably while conserving energy resources? San Francisco’s about to find out.

San Francisco already has a lot of distinct neighborhoods–Chinatown, the Castro, Haight-Ashbury. Each has its own distinct personality, type of resident, and geographical area. These fascinating neighborhoods formed organically over time, building a strong sense of community that’s almost like tiny cities within a city.

Now, the City of San Francisco wants to manufacture a new kind of district in hopes of reducing water consumption and waste, and enhancing community-scale energy resources. They will, unsurprisingly, be called Ec0-Districts, and if successful, they could help San Francisco continue to grow without increasing its negative environmental impact.

“To aid in the fulfillment of these goals, the program is implementing a tool called Eco-Districts – a community of property owners, businesses and residents within a neighborhood that collaborate to develop and initiate sustainable development projects in their area,” reports ArchDaily. “Using a set of performance metrics, neighborhoods can shape their projects with custom strategies for their community.”

So what exactly will these Eco-Districts look like? Well according to the SF Planning Department, there will be four different types of Eco-District, and true to form, they all have creative names.

Eco-District Central Corridor

The Blank Slate

In a Blank Slate district, most of the land is undeveloped and typically owned by a single property owner. With very little existing development to work around, this type of district enables “horizontal infrastructure development to be implemented in advance of vertical development to help optimize Eco-District goals.”

The Patchwork Quilt

In a Quilt District, there is both undeveloped, underdeveloped, and developed land, owned by different property owners implementing development projects under different time frames. This presents more of a challenge than the Blank Slate. The goal with a Quilt is to align “development time frames to maximize opportunities to meet environmental goals.” The community will be encouraged “to build on its existing character and to integrate the physical qualities of the area as part of its character.” (San Francisco’s Central Corridor is an example of this type of Eco-District in action.)

The Strengthened Neighborhood

This is one of the most exciting types of Eco-Districts, because it’s a neighborhood that’s already at capacity, but perhaps not operating at optimal efficiency with regards to energy resources. In this district, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development’s Invest in Neighborhoods Initiative, would use strategies of “tactical urbanism” to “bolster distinctive character and support eco-friendly behavior.”

The Industrial Network

Cities can’t be all parks and courtyards. In every metropolis, there is a section dedicated to industrial purposes, where power is made, and where distribution and repair of all types of services for energy resources occurs. Aligning these industries so that their operating and distribution systems can work more efficiently is the primary focus of the Industrial Eco-District.

In each of these neighborhoods, similar tactics to increase sustainability will be deployed, all in line with the waste-reduction goals of the city and state. Coordinated neighborhoods could take advantage of group purchasing of solar power at lower rates, or perhaps even a community-shared solar installation.

“An eco-district could also set up an efficient district energy system, which produces steam, heated water and chilled water at a central plant and distributes the energy to multiple connected buildings, so they do not need to have their own boilers or chillers,” writes Sustainable Development Policy Director Laura Tam. “An eco-district organization could facilitate water reuse between properties, too, such as harvesting rainwater from multiple properties to irrigate a neighborhood park or street landscaping.”

The possibilities, when communities are organized and invited to participate in their own planning process, are endless. Learn more about how other cities–Austin, Boston and Seattle–have already put Eco-Districts to work at

Images: Wikimedia CommonsJihee Chung, SWA Group