Hope for great neighborhoods? Expanding the Impact of HUD Hope VI projects

High Point in West Seattle is recognized as a model of successful community rehabilitation. Funded by a HUD Hope VI grant and managed by the Seattle Housing Authority, the housing redevelopment project undeniably improved the quality of housing and the immediate environment for its residents. Yet the project has fallen short of creating a truly great neighborhood: High Point remains poorly integrated with surrounding neighborhoods, is highly dependent car travel on outside region, and has limited walkable retail and public spaces nearby that meet daily needs and bring people together. HUD Hope VI grants would benefit from expanding their scope for housing rehabilitation projects to include improvements to the larger neighborhood context.

Within the High Point borders, the project’s redevelopment accomplishments are notable.

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A variety of building types provide multi- and single-family housing. Neighborhood design sought to create a “human scaled” environment. Building standards minimized redevelopment waste, prioritized healthy living environments, and reduced energy consumption. Street networks support pedestrian mobility and try to improve integration with surrounding neighborhoods. Ecological design standards helped protect the natural environment and reduce storm water runoff. Low impact development features and various open spaces provide access to nature, recreation, and encourage social interaction. A library branch, some medical services, and a neighborhood center integrate valuable community services into the residential development.

Yet outside the boundaries of High Point, services and amenities that can be easily accessed without a car and that promote social interaction are strikingly absent. The friendly pedestrian environment within High Point confronts a car-centric, hostile walking environment along the major adjacent commercial corridor, 35th Avenue SW. Nearby retail on 35th provides on-site or street parking, but has inadequate pedestrian and bike infrastructure and no inviting public spaces. The majority of High Point residences are within a ¼ mile walk of a bus stop but poor suffer from connections. Amenities such as grocery stores are far enough away that travel by car is more convenient than by bus, bike or foot.

The Seattle Housing Authority did a commendable job remodeling a poverty-stricken area and its efforts are evident in the quality of the environment and living conditions within High Point. Unfortunately, well-designed connectivity and improvements to the larger region are surprisingly absent and limit High Point’s ability to become a top-quality neighborhood.

Increased retail and public spaces that allow people to meet, recreate, and take care of daily needs could generate a sense of attachment to special neighborhood spots. Completed non-motorized connections between High Point and the surrounding area would support pedestrian, bike, and transit use. Such efforts could improve the sustainability of HUD Hope VI projects and help them develop truly great neighborhoods.

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