(TNS) -- A rapid-transit bus system through Uptown Pittsburgh has been discussed, analyzed and debated for years, but a plan that has been riding alongside it is taking shape.

In 2014, EcoDistricts, an organization in Portland, Ore., chose Uptown among eight neighborhoods nationwide to be an EcoDistrict incubator, with training and support for its emerging plans.

Since 2012, 26 cities have participated.

The Uptown Eco-Innovation District team, contractors and the public will build a plan integrating transportation, the environment, energy consumption and community identity into future housing and commercial development, said Jeanne McNutt, executive director of Uptown Partners and a member of the team.

“Social equity is a big piece of it,” she said. “We want to ensure that what we do is beneficial to everybody.

“People want to be in cities again. More and more young people want to be in cities, and they want smart cities.”

The team, headed by Grant Ervin, the city’s sustainability manager, interviewed five applicants last week from among 30 who answered a request for proposals.

Uptown is taking part in “a huge movement across the country to build a holistic vision for redevelopment,” Ms. McNutt said. If bus rapid transit is part of it, “it has to be integrated into the bigger picture and it will come from the community.”

“We’re good at developing plans but rarely do so on such an integrated level that evaluates overall performance,” Mr. Ervin said, citing the “great example” of ACTION-Housing’s work in developing housing on Fifth Avenue around passive and net-zero energy use, “affordable housing with highest standards of energy consumption.”

“We’re looking at how transit plays with parking strategies, bike access, pedestrian access,” he said. “One idea we’re kicking around is a district energy loop system where you are able to provide heat, power, steam and in some cases cooling with high efficiency and low carbon” for UPMC Mercy, Chatham Center, Consol Energy Center and Lower Hill development.

Justin Miller, a city planner and team member, said the EcoDistrict boundaries will likely mimic Uptown’s, from Consol Energy Center to the Birmingham Bridge, the western gateway of Oakland.

“We have the opportunity to create the largest 2030 district in the world by linking Downtown, Uptown and Oakland,” he said, referring to the 2030 Challenge, a global initiative to reduce energy use, water use and transportation emissions by 50 percent by 2030.

Other team members are Stefani Danes, an architect with Carnegie Mellon University’s Remaking Cities Institute; Court Gould, executive director of Sustainable Pittsburgh; Thomas Link, director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship; Christine Mondor, principal of Evolve Architects and city planning commissioner; Patrick Roberts, the city’s principal transportation planner; and Wanda Wilson, executive director of the Oakland Planning and Development Corp.

The EcoDistrict project came out of Mayor Bill Peduto’s transition team, Mr. Ervin said.

“We evaluated eight sites around the city and came up with Uptown,” he said, citing its need for market activity, institutions and position between Oakland and Downtown, the state’s second- and third-biggest economic generators after Philadelphia’s Center City.

The Uptown EcoDistrict team is collaborating with the city, the Port Authority of Allegheny County and the redevelopment authorities of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County on the EcoDistrict plan and the rapid-transit bus plan.

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.

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