At the intersection of buildings, infrastructure and people, neighborhoods shape the social and cultural landscape in which we live, work, learn and play. 


EcoDistricts are the right scale - small enough to innovate quickly and large enough to have a meaningful impact.  EcoDistricts are neighborhoods committed to accelerating sustainability that integrate building and infrastructure projects with community and individual action.

PSU Involvement | SoMa EcoDistrict | Projects 


Portland's EcoDistricts

EcoDistricts (formerly Portland Sustainability Institute, PoSI) in partnership with the City of Portland, launched the EcoDistricts initiative, a comprehensive enabling strategy to accelerate neighborhood-scale sustainability that integrates building and infrastructure projects with community and individual action. An EcoDistrict is a neighborhood or district with a broad commitment to accelerate neighborhood-scale sustainability where members commit to achieving ambitious performance goals, guide district investment and community action, and track their results over time. The five pilot EcoDistricts in Portland include Lents, Gateway, South Waterfront, Lloyd District, and South of Market 

PSU Early Involvement

Guiding Plans

PSU involvement in EcoDistricts took root as the University began work on the University District Framework Plan, a long-term strategic plan for the University District completed in June 2010. An accompanying analysis identified key EcoDistrict opportunities to be considered in the Framework Plan as well as PSU’s Climate Action Plan, completed in May 2010 with sustainability goals related to economic development, mobility, open space, preservation, energy and water conservation, waste management, materials use and goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040. Central to EcoDistrict development within these guiding plans is a focus on increasing engagement and collaboration with surrounding property owners, residents, workers, business owners, and community partners. These strategies recognize the vital importance of cultivating partnerships across campus and the community to ensure the University meets its climate and sustainability goals.



Between 2009 and 2011, PSU led multiple engagement processes as part of various curricula initiatives. PSU’s Center for Academic Excellence held a series of community engagement breakfasts on EcoDistricts, with invitations extended to residents and businesses in the area. One of which was a Civic Ecology workshop where participants were asked to brainstorm ways to make better use of community resources in the district and identify systems for energy, waste, water, food production and local economies. 



Research & Education

Creating sustainable urban communities is a key focus area of PSU’s sustainability research. EcoDistrict pilots offer ideal research opportunities to study ecological and socioeconomic conditions of place, innovative strategies to maximize resource efficiency, and community participation in neighborhood action. Curricular initiatives at PSU engage students by linking theory with hands on research to examine opportunities to address urban sustainability within the EcoDistrict concept. Several research and curricular activities include:

South of Market (SoMa) EcoDistrict

Established as a pilot EcoDistrict in 2010, the South of Market (SoMa) EcoDistrict is an active, highly educated and well-connected urban community - a place where students, educators, residents, workers, and business owners choose to live, work, learn and play. Located in the south downtown area of Portland’s Central Business District, the SoMa EcoDistrict offers unparalleled transit access, a dynamic urban research university, revered greenspaces, and a diverse mix of business, retail and residential uses. The approximately 92 acre area is primarily split between residential and commercial buildings with several city and institutional agencies, as well as a number of businesses particularly to the north and east of the university core. The City of Portland owns a significant portion of open space, including the South Park Blocks and the Halprin Fountain Blocks, which forms an important contiguous green space network along the west and east side of the district. 

SoMa EcoDistrict is bordered by Market Street to the north, SW Harbor Way Drive to the east, I-405 to the south and west. Click here for the SoMa EcoDistrict Map.


SoMa EcoDistrict Steering Committee

PSU and thirteen other major property owners formed the SoMa EcoDistrict Steering Committee in April 2011. The group adopted the name SoMa, ratified the EcoDistrict boundaries, and signed a Memorandum of Understanding, outlining their agreement to work together. They created a vision and goals for the EcoDistrict, and made a commitment to implement projects that create a sustainable neighborhood.

SoMa Vision

To create a sustainable neighborhood for future generations, by working together with our community to define, create, and own a vibrant district with a variety of buildings and parks connected by green streets and public transit that will attract businesses, residents, and visitors to our neighborhood and create a vital and diverse place for people.

Initial Goals

  • Create a strong governing board
  • Encourage a high level of participation by SoMa EcoDistrict Steering Committee and new stakeholders
  • Maintain a strong commitment to investigate new ideas in sustainability
  • Prioritize projects based on principals of economic, environmental, and social equity 
  • Identify equitable funding sources managed by SoMa EcoDistrict Board
  • Balance PSU growth east of 4th  Avenue with commercial and residential uses


SoMa EcoDistrict Roadmap

In 2012, funding from the Institute for Sustainable Solutions and the Bullitt Foundation enabled PoSI and PSU research faculty to produce the SoMa EcoDistrict Roadmap, completed in September 2012, which includes an assessment of baseline conditions, adopted performance goals, recommended investment and partnership strategies, and prioritized projects to support SoMa in achieving its goals. Dr. Vivek Shandas, Associate Professor in the PSU School of Urban Studies, and his team developed and issued a survey to owners, tenants, residents, staff and students in the SoMa EcoDistrict and surrounding neighborhoods which provided valuable demographic information, assessment of current use patterns and behaviors, social perceptions of place, and support for projects and initiatives.

SoMa EcoDistrict Projects

Adopt-A-Block Pilot Program

SoMa EcoDistrict and the Halprin Landscape Conservancy began a voluntary, Adopt-A-Block pilot program within the Halprin Fountain Blocks. The goal of the program is to further improve and activate the parks as a cultural resource. Pettygrove Park, the first park to be “adopted”, received a boost from a nearby SoMa property owner. An enhanced landscape maintenance plan outlines the use of organic amendments, drought-tolerant turf grass, and high efficiency irrigation, among other practices.  



Lovejoy Fountain Park Structure Redesign

A PSU civil engineering senior design capstone project brought together student teams to evaluate the structural integrity and redesign potential of the Charles Moore structure at the west end of Lovejoy Fountain Park. Working with stakeholders from the SoMa EcoDistrict Steering Committee, Portland Parks & Recreation, and the Halprin Landscape Conservancy, student teams conducted 3-D engineering analyses, wind dynamics studies, and provided upgrade recommendations that would address stakeholder needs and concerns while preserving important cultural and historic features of the park.


Kilowatt Crackdown 

 As an important step to increase energy efficiency in existing buildings within the SoMa EcoDistrict, a group of SoMa property owners are participating in Kilowatt Crackdown, an energy challenge among Portland-area buildings to save energy and reduce operating costs. Owners and tenants receive technical assistance to benchmark energy use, analyze savings opportunities, and identify improvements to building performance. Kilowatt Crackdown is sponsored by the Building Performance Partnership, a partnership between BOMA Oregon, NEEA's BetterBricks, City of Portland, Portland Development Commission, Energy Trust of Oregon and Clark Public Utilities. The contest will run from January 2013 until May 2014.

Halprin Fountain Blocks Improvements & Programming

SoMa EcoDistrict stakeholders are continuing their efforts to improve the quality and attractiveness of the Halprin Fountain Blocks. A PSU capstone class is working with SoMa to evaluate opportunities to improve stormwater management in Pettygrove Park. At Lovejoy Fountain, SoMa is exploring ways to encourage people to use the park as a gathering destination by developing a program of activities, such as events, music, and performances and creating seating areas to attract nearby 4th Avenue food cart visitors and invite community interaction. Both projects set out to improve and promote these parks as attractive, healthy urban spaces and important cultural resources of the community.

Reduce, Reuse, Recaffeinate Earth Week Campaign

SoMa partnered with multiple coffee shops in the district to offer a special Earth Day discount for guests who bring in their own coffee mug during the week of April 22nd. The goal of the campaign was to bring awareness to the huge amount of waste from the use of disposable coffee cups and to encourage new habits. PSU Dining, Kobos, Starbucks, Seattle's Best, and Hye's Deli all offered a 50¢ discount on drink purchases (an increase from their typical 10¢ discount!) from April 22nd through April 26th.


Summer Concert Series in Pettygrove Park

In partnership with the 200 Market Associates, SoMa is holding a summer concert series over the lunch hour in Pettygrove Park. Concerts run every Wednesday from 11:30 - 1:30pm starting July 30th and running through September 3rd. Pettygrove Park is located on 2nd and Montgomery, just east of the Cyan apartments. The goal of the concert series is to increase awareness of the Halprin Fountain Blocks and the South of Market EcoDistrict.