Thornton Place, a new community built on top of a mall parking lot, is a sign of how suburbs are changing.

Six acres of one of America's oldest malls have just been turned into the beginnings of a walkable community, complete with a new park that’s helping restore a creek for local salmon.

The shopping center next door--Northgate Mall--was one of the first suburban malls in the country, built in 1950. The surrounding neighborhood used to be the kind of place where any errand required a car.

But thanks in part to Seattle’s aggressive plan for growth management, and the fact that no one really wants to live in the burbs anymore, things have changed.

The development includes 387 LEED-certified apartments, senior housing, a medical center, and more retail space.

In part because it was deliberately located near public transportation, along with several other sustainable features, it qualified as the city’s first LEED Silver neighborhood.

Before the area was originally developed in the 1950s, it was the headwaters of Thornton Creek, a stream critical for wildlife, especially spawning salmon.

The new project aims to improve things for the salmon again, and turned a big chunk of the parking lot into a ‘bioswale,’ a park that filters out pollution before it can reach the creek.

“In the Seattle-Puget Sound area, we’ll have about 1.7 million more people coming into our community by 2040,” says Bert Gregory, CEO of Mithun, the architectural firm that turned the parking lot into a new neighborhood.

Since Washington has laws on the books limiting sprawl--protecting farmland, forests, and other open spaces around cities from development--places like Northgate are the perfect place to squeeze in the coming hordes.

No one really misses the giant parking lot, which Gregory says was empty much of the time anyway. Public transportation use has jumped from 18% to 80% among neighbors.

2013-12-19

Co.Exist

How A Giant Mall Parking Lot Turned Into A Park And A Walkable Community

Instead of paving paradise for a parking lot, this Seattle shopping center is showing how America's suburbs are changing: There are now nearly 400 LEED-certified apartments going up where cars once parked.

If a sprawling mall parking lot is one of the symbols of suburban America, this particular lot is a perfect example of how the suburbs are changing: Six acres of pavement have just been turned into the beginnings of a walkable community, complete with a new park that’s helping restore a creek for local salmon.

The shopping center next door—Northgate Mall—was one of the first suburban malls in the country, built in 1950. The surrounding neighborhood used to be the kind of place where any errand required a car. But thanks in part to Seattle’s aggressive plan for growth management, and the fact that no one really wants to live in the burbs anymore, things have changed.

"Throughout urban America, obviously there's a huge movement back to cities for very good reasons. It’s a demographic shift, it’s a lifestyle shift, a cost shift, a commute time shift," says Bert Gregory, CEO of Mithun, the architectural firm that turned the parking lot into a new neighborhood.

"In the Seattle-Puget Sound area, we’ll have about 1.7 million more people coming into our community by 2040," Gregory adds. "That’s essentially almost three Seattles that have to be accommodated in our metropolitan area." Since Washington has laws on the books limiting sprawl—protecting farmland, forests, and other open spaces around cities from development—places like Northgate are the perfect place to squeeze in the coming hordes.

The development, called Thornton Place, includes 387 LEED-certified apartments, senior housing, a medical center, and more retail space. In part because it was deliberately located near public transportation (including, soon, a new light rail station a block away), along with several other sustainable features, it qualified as the city’s first LEED Silver neighborhood.

Before the area was originally developed in the 1950s, it was the headwaters of Thornton Creek, a stream critical for wildlife, especially spawning salmon. But a highway built nearby cut off the headwaters, and the stream was covered with a culvert. The new project aims to improve things for the salmon, and turned a big chunk of the parking lot into a "bioswale," a park that filters out pollution before it can reach the creek.

No one really misses the giant parking lot, which Gregory says was empty much of the time anyway. Public transportation use has jumped from 18% to 80% among neighbors. And already, over 20% of residents don’t own a car at all.

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7 Comments

  • mbrenman

    Why do writers say idiotic things like this: "the fact that no one really wants to live in the burbs anymore." If that were true, house prices would be collapsing in the Seattle suburbs (and other suburbs), but they aren't.

  • Louis Pereira

    Although I'm all in favor of repairing and creating these types developments, I would have re-introduced the traditional street grid when planning this project. The grid would have mimicked and provided a better connection with the adjoining neighborhoods

  • Richard Campbell

    Enough of the grid nonesence. It is the least efficient pattern of streets that maximizes the amount of pavement while making it really convinent to drive.

    What is inportant is a fine grained network of cycling and walking paths which this development has. This makes cycling and walking more convinent than driving.

  • Jordan Vogel

    I am also in favour of these developments but I hate grid developments. The grid does help with pathfinding but I much prefer the "traditional historical" street design, like in Paris or Boston. They are much more attractive towards pedestrians.

  • Louis Pereira

    I understand though not certain why you would 'hate' the grid - especially in this case. It's just one block. I would just prefer it over the meandering concept they chose here. I didn't find it necessary to go against what is already an established grid in the neighborhood.

  • qianniciello

    Just to clarify (as I live right by Thorton Place) the meandering road you see is actually a walking/biking path. Thorton Place is not quite as large as this article makes it out to be. Really, the only road in the whole "neighborhood" curves around the movie theater (in the bottom left of the photo) and under to the parking. Other than that there are only the small paths between buildings and the park space, following the curves of the creek.