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CHS Pics | Capitol Hill ecodistrict pedals to a start — And where it’s going next

IMG_0539Joel Sisolak’s reign as czar of the Capitol Hill ecodistrict began Thursday with a forced bike ride. In the rain. Soon, green jackboot thugs will come for your unsustainable niece.

We kid. Thursday’s bike tour of the sites and opportunities for creating a district measuring and incentivizing green development and infrastructure improvements around Capitol Hill was 100% voluntary. And Sisolak doesn’t see his role in the greenest job on Capitol Hill in terms of forcing behaviors or being the sustainability police.

Right now, the job is about metrics.

“We’re trying to find out what is measurable,” Sisolak said in a conversation with CHS about the role he’s filled for a month with Capitol Hill Housing, the organization selected to shepherd sorting out exactly how the framework for creating the ecodistrict will work.

For a real-world, real-Pacific Northwest example of ecodistrict development, the Portland Sustainability Institute has been active in creating several pilot districts. In addition to green building and retrofitting, Portland’s ecodistricts include green street projects with vegetation to capture and clean rain water runoff. The projects also invest in community efforts to promote sustainability practices with residents and businesses.

CHH’s efforts to shape a similar program on the Hill will likely include similar components but Sisolak, who joined the effort from the Cascadia Green Building Council, is taking an analytical approach to the project. The end goal could take the shape of working with the city to create something like the Pike/Pine Conservation District that provides incentives to developers that preserve the shape and feel of character buildings in the neighborhood — even as they build seven stories above them.

Meanwhile, with “the greenest office building in the world” slated for an Earth Day grand opening at 15th and Madison, you might think Sisolak has a head start on his efforts. But not only will he not have a desk at the Bullitt Center, Sisolak doubts the single building will boost his neighborhood metrics.

“It was built as an island,” Sisolak said.

The goal will be to grow a district around efforts like the center that connects to the neighborhood as a whole.

Sisolak says he is aware that a district solely focused on the buildings may not be enough.

“We think the ecodistrict should have social justice elements,” he said. Sisolak said he is interested in cost — not just rent but also how much people pay for a night out or groceries. Is affordability green? And, if so, how will it be measured?

Sisolak said that’s what his job is to figure out. If you have ideas, contact him via Capitol Hill Housing.

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