June 7

Praise for Thornton Place from The Atlantic magazine



This week The Atlantic magazine posted a piece titled: “How to Turn a Parking Lot Into an Ideal Green Community.”

The author, Kaid Benfield, is full of praise for “possibly the best example of transit-oriented urbanism, natural public space, and green stormwater infrastructure I have ever seen,” and what he’s praising focuses on the daylighting of Thornton Creek at Thornton Place.

He’s not only talking about the swale, seen above (it’s officially called the Thornton Creek Water Quality Channel) but the entire project.

Much of the credit for this accomplishment belongs to a new development called Thornton Place, comprising 109 condos, 278 apartments (20 percent priced below market), a 14-screen cinema, 50,000 square feel of retail, and a very appealing plaza that gives the block a great urban public space in counterpoint to the natural one.

And Benfield, who is director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, also calls out and praises Era Living’s Aljoya at Thornton Place, the Northgate Branch Library and the community center.

I have a feeling that this project is going to start showing up in a lot of case studies and presentations, including my own, and deservedly so.

How to Turn a Parking Lot Into an Ideal Green CommunityHow to Turn a Parking Lot Into an Ideal Green Community

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Sara W

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  1. I’ll respond to some of those points:

    Good comment about neighborhood involvement, which was well documented in the comments on my article as it appeared in its original form. I wish that I had included that history in the article.

    Brad and others are also right about the unfortunate timing of the project in the real estate market, which ultimately forced the (hopefully temporary) conversion of the for-sale units into condos. This is not necessarily a reflection on the environmental and urbanist merits of the development, however.

    It is also worth noting that, although all of the comments here are related to the Thornton Place project, I see that as only one of three major components of the block’s revitalization. The other two are the city’s investment in daylighting the creek and the senior/assisted housing in the Aljoya project. I never wrote or believed that daylighting was the developer’s idea.

    As to the more extreme observation that the redevelopment of the block is “an abject failure all around,” I suggest the commenter look at other suburban retrofits in Seattle and compare. Even at the national scale, one is hard put to find better integration of green water infrastructure into redevelopment.

    Finally, the suggestion that the project’s environmental benefits ‘just meant that you had to pay a whole bunch extra for parking’ implies that the commenter has not reviewed the evidence or compared the project environmentally to other development.

  2. While it is certainly better than an empty parking lot and the theater is great, I don’t really think that the central structure of the development (the residences) are all that this article implies. I was looking for a place when they opened and was shocked by the asking price of the apartments. They were WELL above market and were pushed as “eco-friendly” which just meant that you had to pay a whole bunch extra for parking.

  3. An actual duckling sighted with mom 6/7/11.
    Not much of a brood, but not bad for an ex-parking lot. The native planting is nice. There was a dad looking at frogs with his young son.
    Thanks to everybody who made it happen; it may not be perfect, but it’s much better than what corporate Amerika tried to ram down our throats at first.

  4. Unfortunately, I believe that not a single condo unit was ever sold, and they were all converted to apartments — still available for lease, I might add.

    While this development is certainly far better than a gigantic asphalt parking lot (that was unused 80% of the time), it would not have been possible without a multi-million expenditure by SPU to create a “storm retention system” for what is also known as Thornton Creek. It’s still not really a creek, but it’s better than an underground pipe, which is how the water flowed before the development.

    The timing of the development was poor, from the standpoint of trying to sell the condos (which also had significant settling issues, as I recall), and I give credit to Lorig Development for making the development investment; hopefully they didn’t take a significant financial bath.

  5. If that is the best example of “transit oriented urbanism” he can find, God help us all. Really, the project is an abject failure all around. Low occupancy rates and an obstruction to the urban grid is not a success story. I am not at all sure where this alleged “very appealing plaza” is located… perhaps that dead space next to the theater?
    For me this project represents everything that can go wrong with urban design. It is an attempt to force a surburban asthetic on an urban canvas. The community would have been much better served by a development that recreated the street grid and actually felt and looked urban.

  6. SO true – this took a lot of community activism, and a lawsuit to get it done. Daylighting was not the developer’s idea at all.

  7. I really wish there had been at least SOME mention of how hard the neighborhood worked for this. It makes the developers and city sound brilliant, when in fact the arm twisting was massive. Sigh.

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