Seattle to the World: High Point

Article Photo

Building a Sustainable Neighborhood

The story:
In 2001, Seattle Housing Authority teamed up with Seattle architecture powerhouse Mithun to design and build a new mixed-income development on the site of a depressed West Seattle low-income housing project (the original had been built into a converted WWII bunker).

The development of the new neighborhood, now known as High Point, was funded by Hope VI, an innovative federal funding program for public housing developed in 1992.

The West Seattle site before redevelopment

A new High Point home

The community, now in its second phase of construction, has achieved game-changing success: High Point has been repeatedly listed among the best places to live in Seattle because of its beautiful and livable homes, community amenities, proximity to West Seattle attractions, and environmentally friendly design. From its inception, the design process recognized the importance of building a place that was not only efficient, but that enriched the lives of the people who inhabited it. As part of their design process, the Mithun/SHA team conducted interviews with the would-be residents to learn what they imagined their dream homes would look like.

The feedback they received, says Mithun project manager Matthew Sullivan, was unexpected. Though many of the residents were immigrants from diverse ethnic backgrounds -- Cambodian, Hmong, Lao, Vietnamese, Latin American, Somalian and others – they described a typical American single-family home with a yard. And so the designers took to their drafting tables to create a livable, sustainable version of the American Dream.

Above: a cross-section rendering of a High Point home design

The result: High Point delivers an incredibly desirable lifestyle with a very sustainable footprint. The neighborhood is a living example of urban density that truly works for its residents. According to Sullivan, the development doubled the density of the previous project on the same site, achieving 13 housing units per acre of land, "and residents were still able to have a front yard and backyard." The 20-foot-deep yards are small, but they are private open space, with room for a patio and a shed. (Look to the Worldchanging archive for an article describing a study that prescribes a density of 13 units per acre for cooling the planet; the national average is currently around 7.6).

But High Point has received the most accolades by far for its innovative natural drainage system – the largest in Washington state. Porous pavement, smart street design, roadside swales and a natural filtration pond work together to protect the nearby Longfellow Creek, a main thoroughfare for local salmon (read more from the Seattle Times). The system was designed by Seattle-based firm SvR Design.

Neighbors enjoy the scenic pond, which naturally filters stormwater

Why it's Worldchanging:
The High Point neighborhood is a shining example of what's possible, on many levels. From the built-in environmental stewardship to the social sustainability earned by attractive community features, green space and the seamless blending of low-income housing with market-value homes, the finished product creates a wonderfully livable environment that fulfills dreams for a diverse group of people in a way that respects both our present and our future. If we could export the High Point model to cities and neighborhoods around the world, we would face a bright future indeed. The trick will be, of course, in funding ... because federal grants alone will not buoy sustainable development for all.

Photos courtesy of Mithun.


This post is part of the series, "Seattle to the World: 100 Best Innovations from the Emerald City."


Note that the natural drainage system, which as you say has received the most plaudits, was designed by the civil/landscape architecture firm SvR Design, which was a sub-consultant to Mithun.

Posted by: highpointer on September 18, 2008 8:47 PM

Post A Comment

Please note that, while disagreement is fine, insults and abuse are not, and will result in the comment being deleted and a likely ban from commenting.

Yes No