Monday, November 17, 2008

Sustainable West Seattle

This week we traveled to the High Point neighborhood of West Seattle to begin our new research project.  The project is an NSF funded qualitative research project in which we will be investigating the mechanisms by which people are able (or not) to live in more sustainable ways in various communities and neighborhoods.  Taking off from what we learned in our book about sustainable communities (Living Green: Communities that Sustain, forthcoming in June 09 from New Society Press), we are interested in learning more about how one's built environment and community promote or prevent them from taking actions in their everyday lives that contribute to sustainability. 

High Point is a new neighborhood, a redevelopment in a Seattle suburb that has a history of vibrant cultural diversity as well as economic hardships.  It is designed to be the most progressive, environmentally friendly community in the country and is Seattle’s first Built Green™ neighborhood.  It is situated on 120 acres in the middle of West Seattle, about ten minutes by car to downtown Seattle.  When we went, we took an express bus that buzzed us into downtown Seattle in no time.  

Wandering through the streets of High Point on a spectacular Seattle Fall day, we were glad we chose it as our first site to visit. The native landscaping includes big old trees and newly planted ones lining the wide streets and many were still a-blaze in Fall color. The reds and yellows and oranges made even more brilliant thanks to the clear blue of the sky and bright sun that began to glow orange as it set on our walk.  

The neighborhood includes a wide variety of housing types--single family attached, detached, apartments, townhouses--each sharing a distinct style and most including front porches and a neighborly atmosphere. Already active and well-lived in, High Point is also still under construction: the final of its phases is slated to be complete in 2010. It is expected to accommodate over 4,000 residents in approximately 1,600 homes, about half of which will be owned and the other half rented. The housing targets a multiple range of income levels, but with an emphasis on affordability. In addition to standard single-family residences, there is a seniors' residence and an assisted living home on-site. All homes meet a minimum of Built Green 3-Star standards, with many achieving 4-Star level and ENERGY STAR® certification.

In addition to the homes, the neighborhood also includes a beautiful public library and a community health center. A grocery store and other retail stores are in the plans. These will be an important addition to the social sustainability of the neighborhood.

Interspersed amongst all of these buildings there are large areas of greenspace: grassy lawns in front of and between houses are larger and more communal than in most neighborhoods, multiple well-appointed playgrounds pepper the site, a protected greenbelt hugs one side, there is a lovely pond and wetland populated by birds, and intertwined in all of this are multiple community gardens.  As we walked, we noticed signs explaining some of the green features of the neighborhood like the porous concrete that made up the ground beneath our feet. We look forward to learning about what these and other sustainable features of the High Point community mean to the residents and what other, less visible elements are also impacting their lives.

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