A relevant proposal on affordable housing over highway development

The development of freeways have always caught the attention of planners, designers and also the public. Since the beginning of twentieth century, a great need of efficient road systems facilitated the construction of millions of highway projects. While later on, increasing worries were raised upon this aggressive movement. Facilitating urban expansion, segregating urban communities,increasing carbon emission, causing land erosion… Upon such an essential part of urban environment, multiple attempt has been tried out by designers and planners.

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By Taj Hanson and George Lee | The Equity Line

Recently, I heard a lecture by a graduate Landscape Architecture student of UW, George Lee, explaining his idea of helping address homelessness and housing affordability in Seattle by building a linear series of affordable housing developments and urban trail as a lid over parts of Interstate 5 in downtown and as new construction in parts of the “Jungle”. Ideally, the proposal is going to provide 28,000 units, approximately 80% subsidized and affordable units for homeless, low-income, and middle class residents, and 20% market rate for higher earners. The integration of these different housing types will be a significant step to achieve social integration. The profits generated from the market rate housing developments would help provide funding for the construction of the low income and subsidized housing.

What I really appreciate in the lecture is the lecturer’s passion in the goal of social integration. “It’s time for big ideas.” George Lee and his team proposed this idea without anyone committing them, sometimes its the thought that really counts.

In terms of feasibility, I think it might be a little bit hard to get those 20% market rate first. First of all, the development should be enough attractive for the higher earners. With the initial consideration of homelessness issue, and the commitment of 80% of affordable housing on site, the living experience must be favorable enough to attract people. The trail infrastructure is a major beneficial facility in the proposal, but the quality of that space is uncertain-the lids could probably reduce air and noise pollution of highway, and provide opportunities to restore the Jungle in an ecological way; but without the protection of building structure, the walking experience through the trails may not be promised.

While put it in another way, the linear distribution of affordable housing will probably reduce the rate of criminal and negative social effects compared to districts. The focus and social impacts of affordable housing is reduced, so that they are more likely to be connected to the parallel residential areas, then the social cohesion is also likely to be achieved.

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All the new ideas have uncertain issues to be discussed, but I appreciate the critical stance the team took as designers and interactive citizens.

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