Editorial: Breaking down the barriers to sustainability

Published Dec 21, 2013 at 12:07AM

There’s a big gap between wanting sustainable stuff and getting sustainable stuff.

It doesn’t matter if the sustainable stuff is changing energy use, reducing waste or implementing different forms of transportation. All those sustainability efforts cost money or require changes in the way money is usually spent. And that requires approval from the public and the government.

On Wednesday night, Bend City councilors signed on to a letter that hopes to help Bend break through the barriers that slow sustainability efforts.

But the barriers are not really something to be fixed. They have been established over the years to ensure open governance and that a small group cannot hijack the city’s agenda. Going slow on sustainability means there is an important public policy debate and that people have different points of view.

The letter that councilors signed is generalized support for an application that the Bend Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative, a group working with The Environmental Center, wants to make to Portland-based EcoDistricts.

EcoDistricts has expertise. It launched in 2009 as an initiative to help cities remove “implementation barriers and create an enabling strategy to accelerate neighborhood-scale sustainability.” It has worked on projects in Portland, Seattle, Boston and Austin. And its website highlights all kinds of things that could be a neighborhood sustainability project. It’s not clear what Bend’s project might actually be.

But does this mean that the city is ceding control of a Bend neighborhood’s development to The Environmental Center and EcoDistricts? We would hope not.

Does it mean the Bend Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative and EcoDistricts pick the project for Bend? Does the general public get to have a say?

What EcoDistricts wants and recommends in its projects is the creation of a new governance entity to manage the neighborhood of the project. It calls it a “sustainability management association.”

Just how much power would such an entity have? Would the members be elected? Would it be given control of city money?

EcoDistricts’ program may be an excellent opportunity for Bend to leverage expertise for sustainable projects. Accelerating sustainability should not mean, though, setting up new barriers to block out the public.