Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Seattle's first TOD

Cruising by Northgate Mall on I-5, the nearly completed Thornton Place evokes images of sci-fi outposts rising from the barren landscapes of distant planets.  In reality, Thornton Place is, in fact, a daring pioneer in a built environment that is likewise hostile to human life.  And the conversion of nine acres of asphalt into the development shown in the photo above is phenomenal accomplishment: Thornton Place is Seattle’s first real transit-oriented development (TOD).
Aye, it’s a big one: 109 condos, 278 apartments (20 percent affordable), a 14-screen cinema, 50,000 sf of retail, and a 143-units of senior housing, along with a new daylit section of Thornton Creek.  The block is roughly 600 feet square — about twice the length of typical Seattle block.
Ideally, it would have been better to break up the block with bisecting streets, though some folks who object to the size of the project would seem to be under the impression that everything you need to know about urban development can be picked up from a few chapters of Jane Jacobs.  Small-scale, incremental development is wonderful.  But in some cases, big projects make sense, and Thornton Place is one of those cases.
Northgate has been targeted for growth by city planners for decades:  It is a designated Urban Center, a bus transit hub and future light rail station area.  But the existing car-oriented, single-use built environment around the mall is a highly unappealing site for small-scale mixed-used residential development — what developer would risk being the lonely pioneer amidst a sea of big box and parking lots?  In contrast, a large project like Thornton Place creates a center of gravity powerful enough both to keep itself alive, and to be a catalyst for future adjacent development.

photo by Oran Viriyincy

more about Transit-Oriented Development:

A Seattle development that is greener than green

‘Creating nature’ with an urban village in Seattle

Short online articles: Urban Environment and Sustainability: How It Is Affected by Urban Form

Transit: How ‘Transit-Oriented Development’ Will Put More New Yorkers in Cars

Transit-oriented development: a failed promise?

What Andres Duany and Peter Calthrope Beieved in 1995

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