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High Point, West Seattle, Wash.

A healthy, green development open to all

High PointThe tale of the High Point neighborhood in West Seattle, Wash., reads like a Cinderella story: A crumbling, impoverished neighborhood is transformed into a vibrant, healthy community with the amenities it once lacked—all while maintaining its authenticity.

Small blocks with narrow streets, wide sidewalks and generous planting strips foster intimate, safe neighborhoods where children and families walk and play. Walkways connect pocket parks, green space and community gardens, and front porches flank traditional, Seattle-style homes. A large organic garden feeds area residents, and smaller pea patch community gardens are dispersed throughout the 120-acre neighborhood.

"Just watch people using the space, living there," says Tom Phillips, senior development manager for the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA). "Walking around this weekend, there were people having barbecues in the park, and the kind of default sound in the place is kids playing."

The 120-acre neighborhood was originally built in 1942 as temporary housing for military workers, but it deteriorated over the years from neglect and a dearth of services.

"It was dilapidated and falling apart and a very dangerous place—the infrastructure was obsolete," says Phillips. "What we did basically was clear the land... and re-do the whole community."

Beyond Active Living [PDF] and New Urbanism principals, the new development touts green technologies, such as a natural drainage system based on bioswales and permeable concrete sidewalks that allow rainwater to drain through.

The houses themselves reflect varying hues and styles, and all boast Energy Star and Built Green certification. About 35 of 60 "breathe easy homes" are already built for families with children suffering from asthma. Beyond the attention to color, green space and active living, the redevelopment appears pleasantly aged due to the meticulous preservation of some 150 old trees.

But perhaps High Point's most remarkable feature is the absence of rife gentrification. Most residents are the low-income families from the original area, and many more residents moved in after completing the necessary qualification process.

"This is very much an income-integrated community," says Phillips. "Part of the whole idea is we have people living in $600,000 houses living across the street from somebody paying $200 rent for their apartment or townhouse."

High Point is also populated by a diverse array of people and cultures. To get a sense of the cultural and ethnic diversity, one need only to witness the traditional garb worn by many area residents who participate in newly organized walking groups.

At its completion in 2009, Highpoint will tout some 1,600 homes and roughly 4,000 residents. Yet families have been steadily streaming in since the beginning of 2006.

As for Phillips, he liked the community so much he decided to move there himself.

"I thought I’d walk the walk," he says.

Related Links
View the master plan map or visit the website for more information.

This fall, PBS is featuring the High Point neighborhood development in "Edens Lost & Found," a documentary profiling redevelopment activities in several American cities.