In an effort to highlight and extend St. Paul's commitment to green living, the city has grouped four longtime downtown institutions to form an "EcoDistrict" to educate residents and visitors about sustainable practices.

District Energy, the Science Museum of Minnesota, RiverCentre and the Latimer Central Library together engage in 11 programs to limit their carbon footprints, providing "a place for us to story tell … and brag a little bit about what we're doing here," said Nina Axelson, who heads public relations for District Energy.

Six solar photovoltaic installations provide electricity for the Science Museum, and solar thermal panels on the RiverCentre's roof generate hot water for the building to use. District Energy uses waste wood to heat several downtown buildings.

Underground tubes melt the snow on sidewalks near RiverCentre, where there are eight electric car charging stations. Various recycling and energy efficient practices are followed.

Cities must step up, Mayor Chris Coleman said, because most carbon dioxide emissions come from urban areas and because lawmakers in Washington won't act. Moreover, he said, environmental programs spur economic development because clients like going green.

"We're at a point in the history of this planet … where we can't afford to be partially eco-friendly," he said.

City officials said that St. Paul's EcoDistrict is nationally unique for blending a wealth of sustainable technologies with a website, saintpaulecodistrict.com, to help educate people about efforts to be more energy efficient.

The EcoDistrict was announced Thursday as part of the St. Paul Riverfront Corp.'s Placemaking Residency, an annual series of seminars, speeches and field trips designed to inspire ideas for more livable urban areas.

The theme of this year's program was the connection between urban design and public health. Dr. Richard Jackson, a professor in UCLA's environmental health sciences department, was to deliver the keynote speech at Thursday night's Great River Gathering banquet in St. Paul.

At the EcoDistrict launch Thursday morning, Jackson said that ecodistricts should be linked with art and cultural amenities "to create places that make it irresistible to be physically active."

That shouldn't be hard to do on the Mississippi riverfront, where the new EcoDistrict is centered. One example is a proposed "River Balcony" along the downtown bluff from the Science Museum to Union Depot, a public walkway that would put people in touch with the river. The City Council appropriated $100,000 in April to begin planning for it.

"There are many places here in St. Paul where you would never know you're on the Mississippi River," city planner Lucy Thompson said.