Can "Eco-Industrial Districts" help make Seattle sustainable?

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A potentially far-reaching step toward making Seattle and its economy truly sustainable went unrecognized by news media this week: King County declaring its intention to partner with the city to create "Eco-Industrial Districts." A likely first candidate: The Duwamish River corridor in south Seattle, home of a Superfund site but also some grand visions by environmentalists, community activists and others.

The King County Council, prodded by councilman Larry Phillips, passed a resolution Sept. 13 that was welcomed by Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin:

"Seattle’s industrial core is a unique and extremely valuable resource and critical to the long term economic health of the region. The City Council’s interest in (eco-industrial districts) has a dual purpose, both to strengthen our industrial core and to improve the environmental quality of the Duwamish river corridor."

It's been a few years since the city council passed an ordinance intended to help preserve easily gentrified industrial areas. It's a threat we explored in our 2007 series on the Duwamish. But the city hasn't done a whole lot since then to proactively encourage high-wage industry to stay in town.

The whole idea of these eco-industrial districts is that new and cleaner industry can dovetail with efforts to green up -- literally and figuratively -- some of the city's grittier and yet economically important areas. Here's how the county's press release conceputalizes them:

"EIDs can vary in size, from a few properties to a large industrial community, within which manufacturers located in close proximity utilize waste products from one firm as an input resource for a neighboring firm, and where workforce housing, recreation and public transit are located nearby.

"EIDs help create sustainable communities by using waste byproducts, maximizing resources, promoting green job creation, applying sustainable manufacturing practices, and creating livable communities."

Now, the news media perhaps can be forgiven for ignoring the largely symolic move of the county council this week. So far, there's no there there. But this could be the beginning of something big. Cari Simson of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, which spearheaded a Duwamish visioning exercise a few years ago, is upbeat even at this early stage:

"There’s so much room for more habitat, more parks, better transportation, bringing more jobs to the Duwamish -- not cement plants, but solar panel factories or wind turbines or something like that."

"It’s a great story about Seattle and a great tangent and parallel to what’s going on with the Superfund site."

-- Robert McClure