by Ashley DeForest
Over the last ten years cities in the Northwest have seen record levels of residential development. Many of these developments are designed to minimize their impacts on the environment and surrounding neighborhoods with progressive tools that save energy, decrease the need for cars, minimize pollution and more. But these building components do not themselves alone create communities that are exciting, inclusive and rooted places for people to live. In my own experience as a professional planner, I have been involved with a number of green building projects and innovative neighborhood developments, but when it comes to successfully creating a sustainable community, only one stands above the rest.
The Pringle Creek sustainable development in Salem, Ore. offers much more than your conventional residential subdivision; it offers individuals the chance to be part of a community. This innovative 32-acre, mixed-use development has received a myriad of notable awards for its use of low impact development techniques like porous pavement, recycled materials, and alternative energy sources. Also worth noting, however, are the project’s efforts to engender a sense of place and community. Through the creation of amenities and innovations including a sustainability living center, lasting community partnerships, community gardens, and a bio-diesel co-op, Pringle Creek offers individuals the opportunity to meaningfully interact with one another and their built and natural environments.
I was struck by the overall effect when I attended an Earth Day celebration at the Pringle Creek site before residential lots had even been created. Old buildings on the site, remnants of the prior state-operated Fairview Training facility, were put to new use for the weekend event. The old painters’ hall was transformed into an educational center where I learned about the benefits of using alternative energy sources, the old greenhouses became the backdrop for workshops in organic gardening, and an old root cellar became host to a wine tasting event where I sipped pinot noir. At the heart of these early events was a strong sense of community, people relating to one another because they cared about the future of our environment and believed in the vision for Pringle Creek.
Roughly two years later, the Pringle Creek community is steadily growing. Renovation of the greenhouses is nearly complete, the first bounty of blueberries has been harvested, and the urban orchard is full of fruit. The painters’ hall is now officially used as a Sustainable Living Center that hosts events like the Cascadia Green Building Council’s Build it LEED for Contractors workshop, which took place September 11th. Community partnerships have blossomed between organizations, like the Flower Power Bio-Diesel Co-op and Santiam bike shop's arrangement, which provides alternative fuel options and a bike share program. Moreover, Pringle Creek's green building requirements have created local jobs for experts in sustainable construction. They have also fueled the retail capacity for FSC wood products, a business opportunity that convinced local company Withers Lumber to go through the certification process.
Perhaps most importantly, there are still undeveloped parts of Pringle Creek that will be realized by future residents. These future developments may take the form of a community winemaking studio or a partnership with the Oregon State University Extension program for urban agriculture research. No matter what the future brings, the final key to creating sustainable, vibrant communities that stand the test of time is letting the people who live in them define their own sense of place.
For those of you interested in getting involved in local efforts to build sustainable communities, there are at least two projects underway in Seattle that provide unique opportunities for engagement. The first is Sabey Corporation’s multi-use redevelopment of the Rainier Brewery in Georgetown. The historic site extends over five city blocks adjacent to Airport Way and has the potential to be an exemplary project, which complements the existing neighborhood fabric while providing additional housing, office, retail and community facilities. Sabey has been working closely with the neighborhood over the last two years to develop a longer term Master Plan for the site, and in the interim is participating in community events like the Second Saturday Art Attacks and Artopia.
Another significant project is the redevelopment of 30 acres of Fort Lawton in Magnolia. Similar to Pringle Creek, this mixed income neighborhood being planned by the City of Seattle has a unique opportunity to engage community members, nature preservationists and future residents in the formation of partnerships around habitat conservation and affordable housing. With the active involvement of residents, and other engaged neighbors like you and me, both of these developments are poised to become exciting, inclusive, and rooted communities.
Ashley DeForest is a Community Developer who lives in Seattle, but is involved in urban and regional planning projects throughout the Northwest. Feel free to email her at ashleyd [at] zenbe [dot] com … she's always excited to hear about an innovation in community engagement or urban development!
Photos courtesy of Pringle Creek.