Open Space Seattle:2100

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Even the Washington Post Loves High Point

Via the Washington Post (via syndication in the Times) continuing praise for High Point, particularly for the natural drainage system. From columnist Niel Pearce:

But all 34 blocks of the project (eventually 1,600 units) have also been turned into a natural drainage system, the largest in the U.S. The object: to protect Longfellow Creek, Seattle's most productive salmon-spawning stream. In the old neighborhood, gutters and big drainage pipes carried storm water — including spilled oil, pesticides and other pollutants — from the streets directly into the creek.

In the carefully engineered new High Point, streets tilt slightly toward one side, where shallow swales, planted with a variety of native and drought-tolerant shrubs and trees and grasses, mimic traditional sidewalk planting strips. Layered by crews with about three feet of compost, much like the floor of a forest, the swales function as a natural filter for toxins.

High praise for High Point, and for Mithun and the unpraised SvR. This is exactly the kind of thinking, green infrastructure and commitment that Seattle needs to carry it into the future.


  • In response to Sunday's Neil Pierce column "High Point: Seattle's green community", I would strenuously disagree with his glowing portrait of the Seattle Housing Authority's (SHA) redevelopment of High Point. A better term for it would be"greenwashing".
    At High Point, SHA took down 716 units of desperately needed very low income public housing and ripped out relatively new infrastructure including perfectly good sidewalks, lights, and streets that had years of remaining useful life. Contrary to the image Mr. Pierce conjurs up of dilapidated WWII housing, the destroyed units had undergone numerous upgrades over the years and sat on solid concrete foundations. Most were duplexes organized around common courtyards where many residents had shared community gardens and grew their own produce. The housing authority replaced that with 1600 housing new units but only 366 are comparably priced public housing units. One hundred others serve special needs elderly. The rest are being offered to a higher class of people including units that will sell for more than $450,000-$500,000. While most of the low income folks are consigned to denser apartment buildings on the new site, the larger lower density and ground related housing will go to the more affluent. In all SHA will spend over $300 million in local, state, and federal housing dollars to "green" High Point - all to come out at the other end with fewer low income units needed in our city.

    Combined, SHA's 4 "HOPE VI projects" in Seattle (Highpoint, Rainier Vista, Roxbury Village, and Holly Park) will result in a loss of over 1000 public housing units desperately needed in our community. And don't buy SHA's claim they're replacing these units "off-site". Their so called off-site replacement units are being built almost entirely with funds from existing state, local and federal sources meaning the units would have been built anyway in the area. Existing finite dollars, instead of going to expand our low income housing stock, are being used for SHA's replacement units. They're just robbing Peter to pay Paul. These losses combined with runaway gentrification in our city due to market forces have driven thousands of working class and low income people out of our city and into the suburbs where they must commute (usually by car) longer and longer distances to and from work in Seattle (with all it's attendant environmental impacts on our region such as more gas consumption, auto, noise pollution, sprawl etc). I'd hardly call this consistent with truly "green" goals.

    Further, as was the case at Rainier Vista and Holly Park, don't believe SHA bull (or should I say compost) about tree preservation at High Point. Here are quotes from an Aug. 2003 story from the Seattle Times (Eskanazi) about their tree preservation plan at SHA's Rainier Vista redevelopment.

    In all, 198 of Rainier Vista's 428 trees are being preserved. Most of the survivors, however, line the perimeter....The Housing Authority is planning to plant 1,200 new trees within the new Rainier Vista, most along the streets. Within five years, the authority contends, the volume of trees — measured by total trunk diameter — will exceed what it was before construction began. "To them, I guess a sapling next to the street does what this does," said (Carolee) Colter, while standing under the shade of a mature silver-leaf maple that will face the ax. The Housing Authority hired an arborist in 2000 to assess the health and preservation value of Rainier Vista's trees. The arborist was a tough critic, dismissing all trees in the poplar-cottonwood family as a weak species not worthy of saving. "It's genocide for cottonwoods," Colter lamented. With only a few tall trees still standing within the newly flattened interior of the western side of Rainier Vista, the landscape looks stark — although it does back up against the copiously wooded Cheasty Greenbelt.

    SHA is doing exactly the same thing on the east side now of the Rainier Vista redevelopment. Note also that we still may have to re-engage a lawsuit of ours (joined by surrounding homeowners) in order to ensure that they - SHA - indeed fulfills their tree commitment at Rainier Vista. At High Point, they are wiping out all but 100 of 650 older trees - a graceful green covered canopy destroyed leaving only about 1/6th of the older growth most along the perimeter of the new development.

    All of it this was totally unnecessary. There were numerous alternative redevelopment schemes SHA could have employed at High Point - modernization/renovation, new construction or a combination of the two that could have integrated green techniques galore without wiping out most of the tree canopy, infrastructure, or destroying any low income housing..... No matter how you look at it, it's called "Greenwashing" gentrification, and "hype".

    - John V. Fox, coordinator for the Seattle Displacement Coalition 632-0668

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:42 AM  

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