Fitting It All In: RHA's Kirkland Avenue Townhomes

by Patty Buchanan

What do you get when you add 18 residential units, 18 parking spaces, mature existing trees, a community garden, 18-foot building set-backs, three frontages, a network of site walkways and private patios? I bet you wouldn’t guess that you get a fully accessible landscape with a network of pervious pavements, native sustainable plantings, a site fully mitigated by a system of low impact development/green infrastructure techniques, in addition to all the usual requirements for above- and under-ground infrastructure, including water, sewer, storm, electrical, and pedestrian and street lighting. Oh, yes, and affordable housing for 18 families.

This site is owned by Renton Housing Authority who believes that the environment, in addition to the housing they provide to their residents, is just as important. So, when we were presented with such a small site--it’s only 0.83 acres (36,500 sf)--that needed to serve so many needs, we knew that every square-foot would need to be accounted for and provide multiple services. This is where many of our low impact development and green infrastructure approaches really shine. For example, in order to control the amount of impervious surface on site, we designed all of our site walkways and parking lots to be pervious concrete, serving to provide accessibility throughout the site and helping to control stormwater by allowing stormwater to pass through and infiltrate into the native soils while also reducing the impervious surfaces total area.

RHA’s Kirkland Avenue Townhomes (KAT) is the beginning of a major housing replacement and neighborhood redevelopment effort between RHA and the City of Renton's Sunset neighborhood. The new residents are the first to be relocated out of their previous units (only a few blocks away) where demolition of old buildings are already underway. KAT represents a unique partnership between RHA and the City where the green infrastructure techniques used for the site and right-of-way were allowed to cross the public-private boundary so that codes and goals could be met for all parties. SvR (civil and landscape architects for KAT) worked closely with RHA and City staff to demonstrate that by using the network of green and low impact development techniques across the site and in the planter strip of the right-of-way, stormwater from the site and the streets would be fully mitigated for water quality and flow control.

KAT demonstrates how the integration of and the multipurpose nature of sustainable approaches to site design and stormwater manage can provide a means for fitting more into a small site. KAT represents a win for all stakeholders, but especially for the families that live there and will benefit from high quality affordable housing set in a fully sustainable, beautifully landscaped environment.  


Looping Public Health into Yesler Terrace's Streetscapes

Located at intersections and along a continuous loop, activity zones like the one shown in this schematic plan, will provide residents with opportunities to recreate while exploring their neighborhood and contributing to vibrant street life.

Located at intersections and along a continuous loop, activity zones like the one shown in this schematic plan, will provide residents with opportunities to recreate while exploring their neighborhood and contributing to vibrant street life.

As designers and planners continue to recognize the health impacts that our built environment has on human populations, new strategies are being deployed to create places where the "healthy choice is the easy choice." This is particularly important for communities where, due to socioeconomic circumstances, the public health odds are already stacked against residents. In Seattle, SvR and the rest of the design and development team behind Seattle Housing Authority's (SHA's) Yesler Terrace redevelopment were keenly aware of these challenges, and promoted "healthy eating and active living (HEAL)" opportunities throughout the design process. 

In early discussions with SHA and the design team, nonprofit organizations and public health officials discussed Yesler Terrace’s cultural diversity, affordability, and high populations of senior and child residents, emphasizing the importance of active spaces to help combat health issues like obesity and diabetes. All stakeholders agreed that the existing parks’ sizes and programming did not meet the needs of the anticipated population of the neighborhood. The Green Street Loop, a 1/2-mile circuit that links three pocket parks to a larger neighborhood park, helps fill this gap by creating a visible and cohesive pathway to neighborhood destinations. The Loop also became an important platform for meeting the neighborhoods' public health goals.

Eight activity zones are identified in gold stars along the 1/2-mile Green Street Loop (in green) at Yesler Terrace.

Eight activity zones are identified in gold stars along the 1/2-mile Green Street Loop (in green) at Yesler Terrace.

Activity stations contain fitness equipment such as Kompan's Complete Body Toner.

Activity stations contain fitness equipment such as Kompan's Complete Body Toner.

In addition to enhanced pedestrian amenities, larger trees and public art along the Loop, there are 8 "activity zones," each with at least one fitness station and a bench. The activity zones are equally distributed along the Loop, and the fitness equipment at each zone was selected to accommodate a range of ages and skill levels to make it easier for everyone to engage in healthy activity. From pull up bars to sit up benches to free runners, the activities provided offer a complete workout and encourage circulating around the neighborhood. 

The Loop was not only designed for physical health, but also to encourage a vibrant public realm that promotes economic development, increases safety by inviting more eyes on the street and breaks the cycle of social isolation that can beset recent immigrants and the elderly. Also arrayed around the Loop and throughout Yesler Terrace's streets are "pause places," which provide space to pull off the main path of travel to sit, lean, park a bike, wait for public transportation or catch one’s breath while navigating the steep terrain. Pause places are smaller than the activity zones, but are offered more frequently - approximately every 100 feet - on both sides of the street.

Creating a public realm that promotes physical activity will not only serve Yesler Terrace residents. Creating a socially and physically active streetscape could prove a powerful prescription for public health practitioners as our nation searches for ways to make preventative health care a daily part of our lives.

Innovation that Infiltrates: 21st Street Recognized for Pioneering Sustainability

It isn't always easy to be at the leading edge, but when you succeed, the rewards erase the challenges encountered while pushing the envelope. For the central California city of Paso Robles, successfully positioning themselves at the leading edge means recognition by  the Central Coast Chapter of the US Green Building Council (USGB-C4) with the 2014 Green Innovation Award for their pioneering low impact design (LID) demonstration project:  21st Street.

The groundbreaking nature of this project began at its inception. After fines were levied against the City for illicit discharges into the Salinas River, the City, led by Wastewater Resource Manager Matt Thompson, negotiated with the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to apply the fine money to a novel use that would benefit water quality within the region. The Water Board agreed and worked with the City to reallocate fine money and develop a work plan. The outcome was a partnership between the City, the Central Coast’s Low Impact Development Initiative and our office to develop guidance for the design of green/complete streets in the Central Coast region as well as a specific concept plan for 21st Street in Paso Robles, the runoff of which directly discharges to the Salinas River.

SvR was honored to be a part of the design team for the project, which was heralded as the first Green and Complete Street on the Central Coast. Informed by context-sensitive design strategies, the corridor helped the city create a more livable, walkable public realm while embedding sustainability strategies within the right of way, including:

  • 26,000 square foot reduction of impervious pavement,
  • locally-informed public art pieces,
  • dedicated infrastructure for cyclists,
  • wider sidewalks for pedestrians,
  • infiltrating bioretention areas that incorporate native plantings, and
  • a stream-bed channel that transforms a perceived liability—the high-volume, high velocity storm flows coming from the the Mountain Springs Creek watershed—and celebrates and reveals the creek while allowing for increased groundwater recharge.

Our involvement began when we were invited to help get the City "over the hump" to imagine a street unlike any they had done before. Working with the community, we established the schematic design bones that would inform the final design, tailoring our design solutions to fit within the existing fabric of the neighborhood, whether the adjacent land uses were residential or commercial.

After establishing the foundational concept  for the project, a team of local consultants, lead by the team at Cannon, moved the  project from concept to reality. Cannon estimates that, with recent local rains, "approximately 250,000 gallons of water have recharged into the groundwater basin, equal to a family of four using potable water for an entire year."

The 21st Street Green, Complete Street Project was made possible in part by an Urban Greening Grant from the California Strategic Growth Council. Thank you to Cannon for many of the images above.