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Mill Creek, WA: An Example of New Urbanism Introduction and Study Area Suburban cities Mill Creek, WA: An Example of New Urbanism Introduction and Study Area Suburban cities are unsustainable for multiple reasons. The growth of suburbs in western Washington has vastly depleted natural habitat for many species of animals and plants. Suburban development also has much greater economic costs in terms of energy use and infrastructure cost. Although New Urbanism is a fresh urban planning pattern in the US, the idea of compact urban areas where people can walk from home to work, market, and recreation is as old as the first cities of the world. My study area, Mill Creek, WA, is located in the North Creek watershed. North Creek runs through a small valley surrounded by low rolling hills typical of the larger Western Washington area. North Creek flows through an area that is rapidly urbanizing, containing about 49 percent impervious surfaces (North Creek Site 0474, 2006). - A look at North Creek Wetlands from Mill Creek Town Center Condominiums - Study Area: Mill Creek, WA Economic Reasons for New Urbanism Ecological Reasons for New Urbanism Sustainable land use planning is important in Mill Creek from an ecological standpoint because increasing amounts of impervious surfaces can make flooding a serious issue. More impervious surfaces mean more area for rain water to pick up pollutants before entering streams. Suburban development creates larger heat islands increasing air-conditioning demand making air pollution worse. Loss of natural forests and diverse natural species destroy the beauty of the land, harming property values as well as our ability to fish, farm, and enjoy our natural surroundings through recreation. Living in walk-able urban areas also means more opportunities for diverse social interaction compared to the absence of social interaction when more time is spent alone in personal automobiles. - Effects of Suburban Sprawl - Aerial Photo, Mill Creek Town Center And Surrounding Suburban Area Mill Creek Town Center The city of Mill Creek is located roughly 30 miles north of Seattle. The newest addition to the city is Mill Creek Town Center, an example of New Urbanism at work. Mill Creek Town Center includes a five story condominium (Mira Vida), a grocery store (Central Market), many restaurants, shops, a fitness center, a health clinic, and other office space. Within walking distance (a mile or less) of the town center is a large complex of two story townhomes and three story apartments, trails through natural wetlands, youth sports facilities, library, post office, etc. Higher density housing in the area makes it possible for many people to go about their daily lives (working, shopping, and exercising) without using a car. The development of high density, multi-story homes offices and stores saves land space for natural wetlands, parks, etc. Higher densities also cost city tax payers less in terms of infrastructure costs. Access to mass transit is limited at the moment (buses) but improvement could be possible in the future. Buses allow people from elsewhere in the Mill Creek area to get into the town center quickly. Buses also allow people living in the Town Center to get to jobs or school without using a car in some cases. In the future, Mill Creek Town Center could be a possible stop for a light rail transit station because high densities of homes, jobs and services would make such a station efficient. Sustainable land use planning in Mill Creek, as well as elsewhere in the United States, is also very important from an economic standpoint. Perhaps the worst consequence of suburbanization has been our dependence on the automobile. Most low-density suburban developments are not suitable for mass transit, bicycling or walking because homes are much too far away from jobs, stores, schools, etc. When people are dependent on a car to get them to and from work, a large portion of their individual budget must be spent on gas, maintenance, etc. Roads and highways are also very expensive, and the more spread out we develop; the more costly roads become to build and maintain. Suburban infrastructure costs also pose a major problem for America. The cost to build a mile of road, sewer or water line is similar whether they are built in a low density suburban setting or a high density urban setting. Because of this, the per-unit cost of infrastructure for a suburban house is much more than the per-unit cost of infrastructure for a denser condominium, apartment, etc. Because a suburban house has more surface area facing the outdoors per occupant than does a higher density condominium, heating and cooling is much more efficient for a higher density building over a suburban home. The growing costs of suburban development will certainly push more people to live in walk-able urban (New Urbanism) areas, mostly in an effort to reduce the cost of transportation. Mira Vida Condominiums with Parking Garage to the right and commercial services and offices on first floor. -Bus Stop in Mill Creek Town Center - Mill Creek Town Center Main Intersection Conclusion Mass transit development starts at the federal level, where money is accrued from the eighteen-cent-per-gallon gas tax all Americans pay to drive (Leinberger 2008). The majority of this tax money goes towards building and maintaining interstate highways. Money should be shifted away from building new highways on urban fringes, and instead be placed in programs that aid mass transit, bicycling and walking. It would also be in America’s best interest to increase national gas taxes to provide money for mass transit and incentive for people to commute in ways other than alone in their car (Oates, 2006). In this way, suburban dwellers could actually be working to subsidize New Urbanism development, instead of the other way around. Many people in the upcoming future will likely realize the economic and environmental advantages of living in higher density, walk-able urban areas, and we will see a shift away from suburban living. New Urbanism may not be every American’s preference, but certainly there is a desire for it now that is larger than current availability. In the future more walk-able urban development will likely be seen, while other people will still reside in suburban developments if they choose to do so. - Mixed Use Commercial Office with Health Clinic, Fitness Center, Restaurants, and a Bank within one building. Rob Zimburean 12/1/2008 Urban Geography