Etna, PA — October 22, 2020 — On October 13, 2020, the Borough of Etna and the Etna Community Organization (ECO) jointly received the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence from the Pennsylvania Department of Environment Protection on behalf of the Etna EcoDistrict. As a grassroots sustainable community development initiative, the Etna EcoDistrict serves to define and actualize a future where everyone in Etna has an opportunity to thrive and live healthy and fulfilling lives. The Etna EcoDistrict is one of 14 projects across the Commonwealth to be honored with this Award.
“The Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence honors projects that are committed to protecting and improving the environment while also promoting economic development in Pennsylvania. I nominated the Etna EcoDistrict for its thoughtful consideration of environment and economy and for its inclusion of the community in planning for a more vibrant and sustainable future,” said Senator Lindsey M. WIlliams, who nominated the Etna EcoDistrict for the award.
The idea for the Etna EcoDistrict came from a long-standing partnership between the Boroughs of Millvale, Etna, and Sharpsburg, who decided to coordinate community planning efforts under a joint effort named the Triboro Ecodistrict.
“Etna, Millvale, and Sharpsburg are each in the process of advancing their own EcoDistricts to make quality of life improvements in their communities, based on unique needs and goals. At the same time, we have found ways to work collaboratively on projects and programs across the Triboro where our needs overlap to benefit all three communities together.” said Triboro Ecodistrict Director Brian Wolovich.
With funding to the Triboro Ecodistrict from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, Etna was able to pursue its own multi-year community engagement and planning process that led to publication of the Etna EcoDistrict Plan at the end of 2019.
Over the course of two years, ECO and the Borough of Etna worked with the architecture and planning firm evolveEA to host monthly community education and planning meetings around six key focus areas: Water, Mobility, Air Quality, Energy, Food, and Social Equity. At these gatherings residents, business owners, community leaders, and partners were given opportunities to share their stories and provide input on concerns, dreams, and goals for Etna’s future. In total, the Etna EcoDistrict engagement process included 40 different meetings, events, or workshops and saw participation from over 400 individuals. The insight collected throughout the process culminated in the Etna EcoDistrict Plan, which outlines 10 years of action to improve quality of life for the community.
“The Etna EcoDistrict education and planning series built upon existing efforts to not only educate the community about the six focus areas, but also empower the community to activate their collective vision for a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient Etna. The Etna community is truly a model of how successful we can be when we all work together towards a common goal,” remarked Anna Rosenblum, project manager at evolveEA.
Simultaneously, Etna pursued official EcoDistricts Certification with the national EcoDistricts organization, becoming the first Certified EcoDistrict in the world.
“For Etna to be recognized on the map as the first Certified EcoDistrict in the world is an incredible achievement. It is a testament to the years of time and effort invested into advancing sustainability and resiliency in our community, building stronger relationships with our neighbors, and engaging deeply and thoughtfully with our residents to make sure that the positive changes we are seeing are beneficial and equitable for all,” said Etna Borough Manager Mary Ellen Ramage.
After the Etna EcoDistrict planning phase was complete, ECO and Etna Borough were ready to begin implementation of the Plan. A community meeting was held in February of this year to kickstart the Etna EcoPark, a joint project to transform a vacant lot into a community park space that includes elements of each of the Etna EcoDistrict’s six focus areas, before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the region.
“Part of being an EcoDistrict is a commitment to resilience, to doing what we can as a community to persevere through and bounce back from adversity. After publishing our Plan and achieving EcoDistricts Certification, this commitment was immediately put to the test. We entered 2020 with excitement around our intent to begin implementing the Etna EcoDistrict Plan. However, when the pandemic hit we had to pivot and quickly find a balance between meeting the new, urgent needs of our residents and businesses and maintaining momentum around achieving our Plan goals,” said ECO Director Alexis Boytim.
To address the immediate needs of the pandemic, Etna’s network of community leaders sought emergency funding from The Pittsburgh Foundation, the Triboro Ecodistrict, New Sun Rising, and community fundraisers. Among the supported efforts, ECO hosted a “Dinners for Neighbors” program in which local restaurants and catering businesses were paid to prepare hot, healthy meals for free distribution to community members in need on a weekly basis.
ECO and Etna Borough have recently focused their efforts on collaboratively advancing the Etna EcoPark and the Etna Community Library, a keystone project that would return a much needed educational asset to the community. Work is currently underway to install an educational rain garden at the Etna EcoPark site, which will mitigate stormwater and help reduce the impacts of flooding in the floodplain during rain events. The parklet will also feature tree cover, a permeable walkway to allow for additional stormwater infiltration, and park furniture for community members to sit and enjoy the new green space. ECO plans to initiate a community fundraiser to help raise resources for the EcoPark’s completion.
“The community dedicated a tremendous amount of energy and time into the Etna EcoDistrict planning effort and we are now starting to see the tangible results of that work. My neighbors are eager for a more equitable and vibrant community, and they want to be involved, engaged, and activated in realizing that goal. We’re excited that the Etna EcoPark is physically underway and that Etna will have a new green space that contributes to the health of the neighborhood. Similarly, we have multiple efforts in progress to establish a community library including a feasibility study and an architectural design process. We see the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence as both an honor as well as an affirmation that says, ‘Make it happen,’” voiced ECO Board Chair Robert Tuñón.
Funding for the Etna EcoDistrict was provided through the Triboro Ecodistrict Grant by the Henry L. Hillman Foundation.