Real Estate Market

Susan Stasik: 3rd Time Finalist, Full Time Genius

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Last week we posted about local Brokers who are making an impact in the Seattle real estate market. That list could never be complete without a hat's-off to Susan Stasik. Susan has won the Green Genius Awards for Listing Agent of the Year for the last two years - and we are so honored to know her, her work and the work that she does with one of Seattle's most notable builders - Dwell Development,

Dwell's mission is to create livable, walkable, sustainable communities. They are responsible for completeing over 40 Built Green properties in the mixed-income community of Rainier Vista near the light rail - as well as completing the first Emerald Star Built Green Spec Home in Seattle.

That's what the Green Genius Awards are all about - educating a community and transforming the market to consider sustainability when homes are bought and sold. That's Susan's job. 

Susan Stasik
Green Genius Listing Agent of the Year Finalist
Windermere Real Estate  -  Madison Park

  • Sam: What gets you excited about the green building movement?

  • Susan: I am buying some acreage in Ce Elum’s high country where I hope to some day soon build a home as close to off-grid that I can achieve, so my most-immediate answer would be solar. Building a home that doesn't have to be hooked up to utilities is an amazing feeling. And now so many buyers and builders are using solar and that is an exciting thing to take advantage of. 


  • Sam: What was your favorite green project?

  • Susan:  Probably our most recent Emerald Star project. From finding the lot at the very beginning to getting the site orientation correct, and all of the details like the 450% efficiency Sanden heat pump, the barn wood, and the energy efficiency. The Emerald Star home was pre-sold, but there was so much geeking-out about the home. It was fun.


  • Sam: What advice would you give to buyers and sellers of green homes?

  • Understand the green features... there's a difference between green enough vs sustainability/health and energy efficiency.


  • Sam: What do you like most about living in the PNW?

  • Susan: I love Seattle. It is a vibrant, big city with big city issues - but the progressiveness of the city is amazing. You can't get that everywhere. We are lucky.


  • Sam: What was your superlative in high school – (ie most likely too…)?

  • Susan: Most likely to Lead. I had a wide assortment of friends.


  • Sam: What is your favorite pump up song? 

  • Susan: Most recently it would have to be the mashup of Rachel Platten & Kelly Clarkston's Heartbeat Fight Song.


  • Sam: What is your favorite comfort food?

  • Susan: Definitely cheese & bread.

Who's Making an Impact in Seattle Real Estate? Green Genius Awards on September 9

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No one is questioning the success of the Seattle real estate market right now - but to folks like Susan Stasik, third time finalist for the Green Genius awards, its not about the quantity of home sales that really make her job worthwhile - its about the quality of the homes being sold; its about the people and the attitude toward better living; its about making an impact that affects more than just your pocketbook. Susan along with the rest of the Green Genius Finalists have more than one thing in common. First and foremost they are all stellar agents who know how to treat their clients, negotiate, and navigate the complex landscape of the Seattle housing market. They are all fierce agents with a passion for their jobs. But they do more than just navigate... they shape our market. 

These Green Genius Agents have managed to really push the needle in real estate while simultaneously helping the Emerald City build a reputation for progressive, sustainable living. They are at the forefront of a national trend, and we couldn't be more excited to award their positive influence.

On September 9th - we will announce the winners of the Green Genius Awards at the Annual Built Green Conference in Seattle. Each winner will receive a cash prize. We are thrilled to award these brokers for all they have done this past year. 

We asked each finalist a number of questions to get to know them before the Award Ceremony. Here is the first of seven posts. Let's see what Jay Miller has to say about green building!

Jay Miller 
JAY MILLER - Green Genius Listing Agent of the Year Finalist
Keller Williams Realty  -  Alchemy Real Estate Group

Sam: What gets you excited about the green building movement?

  • Jay: If we can translate the green movement in the same way the EPA has done with MPG stickers for cars, the energy efficiency and lower cost of owning a home (and communicating this to buyers) seems to me to be the most important. What does green in their wallet mean? We are a little numb to Energy Star and efficient hot water heaters, and it’s hard to know what overall impact it has on the home as a whole.


  • Sam: What was your favorite green project?

  • Jay: I loved all of the green projects I worked on this year of course! My favorite Isola project, the Woodlawn avenue "Licton Springs" because they felt truly stand-alone and AFFORDABLE GREEN.


  • Sam: What advice would you give to buyers and sellers of green homes?

  • Jay: It's easy to share with a buyer that an investment in a green home today, may seem like it's pushing the norm, but it's GOING to be the norm in 4.5 years when they sell. Setting up yourself to be a competitive green seller in a market that will soon have that as the norm.

  • For green builders, while mathmatically, they might sell for more...we haven't seen a recession yet...and there's better insulation against market swings.


  • Sam: What do you like most about living in the PNW?

  • Jay: That's it's turned into San Diego... but with better weather. The climate, activity & people make the PNW worthwhile. Two years ago I thought my family would have moved because of the weather - but now we are actually staying because of it.


  • Sam: What was your superlative in high school – (ie most likely too…)?

  • Jay: (Laughs) I’m not sure I was voted for anything, but if I was, it would’ve been in 5th grade.  I may’ve been voted most likely to succeed in business, in Mr Ito's class. I owned 1/2 the class businesses at the end of the year in a class market simulator project.  I don’t think that’s what Mr. Ito had in mind when he set up the project!  


  • Sam: What is your favorite pump up song? 

  • Jay:  Huh? 

  • Sam:  You know…like you’re about to step into a heated negotiation…or you’re very, very late coming home from work…or both.  What do you play in the car at ear wrecking volume to get yourself pumped up?

  • Jay: Black Eyed Peas - don't stop the party


  • Sam: What is your favorite comfort food?

  • Jay:  I think a snobby burger is the right fit... Cowboy cheeseburger at Eureka

Modern Builder and Design Magazine!

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"Having beautiful product that is also incredibly energy efficient means it costs less to own and we mitigate more greenhouse gas emissions.”

We’re proud to share that we were recently featured in the Summer 2015 issue of Modern Builder + Design magazine! Our own Aaron Fairchild outlined Green Canopy’s mission, process, and motivations in the eight page spread.  He speaks to the importance of recognizing the impact our builds are making on both the environment, and on the community around us. 

“With educational programs, green building and renovation techniques, and unparalleled community engagement, Green Canopy is as much a movement as it is a business. 
Green Canopy Homes’ earth-friendly ethos is not limited to an end product: homes, renovations- and now custom- properties that sell for up to $1.5 million and meet rigorous standards for energy efficiency, quality and beauty. 
The company goes beyond its relationship with individual homebuyers to try to affect change in the market overall- through innovative education channels and partnerships. 
‘We have shifted this local market toward greater awareness of the benefits of resource efficiency and certified green product at the time homes are bought and sold,’ President Aaron Fairchild says.” (p. 63)

The article continues on to highlight Aaron’s goals and specific processes for accomplishing the Green Canopy mission.  He even mentions the Empower Happy Hours! 

We are also so thankful for Ballard Reuse, Northwest Electric & Solar, and Performance Insulation for being a part of this spread with us. 

Check out more here: http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/translucent/mbd_2015summer/#/62

Is your Dream Home a Green Home? The Challenges of First Time Home Buying

Leah Missik - The new Director of Built Green talks to happy hour guests about the Built Green program.

Leah Missik - The new Director of Built Green talks to happy hour guests about the Built Green program.

Last month we had the honor of hosting Greendrinks with a fantastic group of organizations. The Youngstown Cultural Arts center was buzzing with folks from Built Green, Sustainable Seattle, Green Canopy and the Washington State Housing Finance Commission; all there to answer one question for the happy hour attendees - "How can we make green homes more accessible to first-time homebuyers?"

Promoting green building in the retail, real estate market is a paradigm shift in the way we have traditionally shown and sold homes in the past. Value in real estate has always been determined by location, price, amenities, neighborhood, school districts, etc. with little thought given to long term investment in things like utility bills or walkability.  However - as we see the Millennial generation step into the homebuying arena - a generation known for their values-based consumerism -  we can and should expect these individuals to be more interested in long term savings from resource conservation, healthier and local materials that benefit the local economy, and access to amenities in walkable locations that will keep them out of their car. It's not just the Millennials making these decisions though. Today, the typical homebuyer is tech-savvy and non-traditional. They tend to research more or their own and, while decisions still weigh heavily toward cost and location, energy efficiency is topping the charts on the "Must Haves" list for new buyers.

That being said - there are still not a lot of resources to help first time buyers get exactly what they want from the traditional real estate market - and certainly not many incentives to help aid in that decision to go green. Speaking from my own home buying experience, you tend to throw your values out the window when things start to get competitive!

Greendrinks was a perfect opportunity to explore the ideas and programs that are currently at the intersection of the market and values. Folks left the following comments on our interactive ideas board - and conversations circled many of these topics and solutions all evening.

  • More education - many people do not know where to start when it comes to homebuying for the first time. Green homes can quickly become less of a priority as bidding wars heat up the market and first time buyers are forced to keep searching when product is scarce.

  • Incentivize green building - making it worthwhile for builders to actually build green product is a huge part of the equation. Programs like WSHFC's Energy Trust and Built Green - make it easier for builders to finance projects and adapt green building practices that make an impact in our market.

  • Incentivize green home purchases - Green mortgage loans and new products like WSHFC's Energy Spark program are paving the way for buyers to experience real financial relief on their mortgages for purchasing a green home. Additionally, programs like Green Canopy's Energy Performance Guarantee give buyers the peace of mind that their home will perform as it was modeled. This 3 year guarantee means the builder will pay any utility bill that exceeds the amount modeled in the Energy Performance Score.

As mentioned above - the Greendrinks event was an opportunity to talk about a new program from Washington State Housing Finance Commission that was launched just this month. We were especially excited to be alongside WSFC as they revealed Energy Spark - a program that works hand in hand with their down payment assistance program for first time buyers. This incentive comes in the form of an interest rate reduction for mortgages on energy efficient homes. You can learn more about it in this short clip from Kiro News. 

Living by the Lake: What Walkscore Doesn't tell you About Experience

Photo Courtesy of Tilly Goble: Naissance Photography

Photo Courtesy of Tilly Goble: Naissance Photography

We do not tend to write about specific neighborhoods on this blog that often – but I was compelled to write a story about Seward Park after having lived there for several years. In my experience, it was a great place to spend my twenties as the burgeoning Columbia City was just becoming cool - and then start a family in a more mellow part of the Rainier Valley. Even though I recently moved – I still have many friends in the Seward Park area and I truly think it is a hidden gem in Seattle.

I am thrilled that Green Canopy is building here - which is why I wanted to capture the spirit of the neighborhood. I remember watching with anticipation when the lots on Seward Park Ave, walking distance to my own home, went on the market. It was a great location – and I had hoped that Green Canopy would be the ones to snap up these three lots. When we eventually did, I made it a point to stroll by often to watch as we started construction. It was incredible to see our company in my own backyard!

For me, Seward Park was kind of a life-changing neighborhood – filled with long walks on the waterfront, my son’s first bike ride as an infant, magical hikes in the forest and making memories. What I didn’t understand when I went to look up the “fun facts” on the neighborhood was how the heck this community has a Walkscore of 54! It seems artificially low to anyone living here – but perhaps that is because Walkscore tends to measure quantity of amenities over quality of experience.

Many of the residents agree that they actually get out and enjoy their neighborhood often, perhaps even more than families and individuals living elsewhere. What you don’t see on Walkscore is the fact that biking, running and taking long walks through the park, to the local Temples, and along the waterfront are often DAILY activities for the folks who live here. It is an experiential neighborhood, for sure! Full of lazy afternoons of sunbathing and winter forest walks among the old growth. Cherry blossomed sunsets and the peaks of Mt. Rainier. Things that can't be measured by Walkscore.


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What Walkscore does point out is that Seward Park’s commercial district is pretty small. It might not feel like Fremont every weekday – but it definitely hosts and handful of tiny and tidy mom-n-pops that the neighborhood loves. In fact – the impact of the PCC flagship store relocating to Columbia City was, and still is, really big news. Many fear that the store's relocation will be detrimental to the quality of life of the residents and businesses. As an anchor in the community – there was no question that the move would impact walkability and vibrancy. The cry for an equal or better future tenant has since been answered, however, as Third Place Books prepares to move in. It will likely be a change of pace for the area – but most are happy with the exchange. 

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Seward Park is a magical neighborhood with many great memories and friends. I miss several of the south end hot spots – but the local gems listed below have a special place in my memory and can’t be forgotten. I know the future Green Canopy Homeowners will have lasting memories here and will fall in love with the neighborhood (if they haven’t already done so). No matter what Walkscore says – the experience of Lake Washington living and the quality of the local amenities continue to shape the future and reflect the past of this lovely, vibrant community.

  • Café Vita: Best coffee and service and the only place to get Mighty-O doughnuts in the south end.

  • Flying Squirrel Pizza: Yes, please. All of the time. I love that they serve their wine in stem-free glasses – and stock Molly Moon ice cream for dessert.

  • Seward Park Audubon Center:  Birding not your thing? That's ok! They have something for everyone! Who else offers midnight owl prowls and toddler walks through the forest. Watch soon for the Tiny Trees All-Outdoor Preschool!

  • Lake Washington and Seward Park: Pure Magic

  • Bent Burgers: Shake and a burger with outdoor seating. Need we say more? 

  • Pritchard Beach: The fine line between Seward Park and Rainier Beach – but so worth it to explore this pocket park, trails and urban farm

  • Essential Birth & Family Center: There is a relatively high number of health and personal care offices in Seaward Park including chiropractors, acupuncturists, dentists and naturopaths. This center caters to new mothers and provides midwifery, pre and postpartum care, support and education to the south end’s diverse cultures. 

  • PCC: Sad to see you go, but looking forward to your successor!


The three homes that Green Canopy will be completing in July are named Baily, Rain and Dalis for their water-faring neighborhood. Baily, after the Baily Peninsula (the original name for Seward Park), Rain after, well we all know what that’s after, and Dalis – a Jewish name meaning “running water.” We are excited to be finishing up these hillside homes and bringing them to the market this summer. They are three, ultra-efficient homes with all of the green features and sustainable materials that we get to geek out on when marrying the built and natural environments.

Community Opportunity: How to Impact the Seattle Housing Market

"The current fight over how we should pay for affordable housing, and who will fund it, is beating on the wrong drum."

Social and environmental impact investing and businesses continue to capture the interest and imagination of the Pacific Northwest, part of a broader global trend. Local early adopters affiliated with Element 8Impact HUB SeattleSeattle ImpactMission Investors Exchange and other institutions and individuals have forged impact investment paths that many others now find themselves traveling. It’s exciting to see the local impact investing ecosystem and communities flourish. However, a market imbalance persists with more impact investor dollars available than the limited number of qualified investment opportunities can absorb. Fortunately we’re seeing signs that the supply of impact investment opportunities is starting to catch up with demand from impact investors.

Green Canopy is an example of an impact-investor funded company that has been fueled by local early adopters. The company operates in a commodity industry: designing and building single family homes. However, we have been fortunate to attract thoughtful, impact-motivated equity and debt investors, due in large part to our mission, vision and values focused on achieving long term positive environmental and social change while simultaneously pursuing solid financial results.

Since 2011 Green Canopy has acquired nearly 90 projects; steadily building a community of homeowners, real estate agents, employees, shareholders and fund members that share our passion to inspire resource efficiency in residential markets. Importantly, we pursue our mission while being uncompromising in achieving key sustainability metrics, paying our employees a fair wage, selling our homes at fair market prices and generating long term shareholder value. Green Canopy has an opportunity to demonstrate it is not only possible, but highly rewarding for all involved to create and operate under a business model predicated on shared, blended value creation.

Similar opportunities are emerging across a wide spectrum of investment strategies that seek to satisfy growing consumer and investment demand for highly impactful market-driven solutions. As Seattle continues to attract tens of thousands of employees each year to fill quality jobs at companies like Amazon, Nordstom and Microsoft, our entire region feels the benefits. And yet, we are all faced with the unintended consequences of the additional infrastructure needed to support increased demand for critical services, including affordable workforce housing. The current fight between the City and the Coalition for Sustainable Jobs and Housing over how we should pay for affordable housing, and who will fund it, is beating on the wrong drum. Neither side seems to be asking the right questions or putting forth a broadly acceptable or effective solution for quickly increasing the supply of affordable workforce housing. 

One example of an alternative solution is Bellwether Housing’s recently launched Seattle Futures Fund. Bellwether has successfully developed and managed affordable workforce housing in Central Seattle for 35 years. However, as affordable housing has become an increasingly rare commodity in the communities Bellwether serves, the organization has had to innovate how its projects are financed; necessity = the mother of innovation. Through the Seattle Futures Fund, Bellwether believes it will more rapidly scale the number of units available to house social workers, teachers, baristas, police officers, firefighters, government workers, data center workers and others that serve our communities. A potentially wonderful, local example that attracts private capital as part of the solution to develop housing that is affordable and accessible to our urban working families.

As a community, we must collaboratively develop innovative, smart, market-driven solutions to problems that impact a wide range of constituents. Hopefully, a greater supply of viable impact investment opportunities for investors to assess, like Bellwether’s Seattle Futures Fund, will be forthcoming in the near-term. In the meantime, we would encourage investors and entrepreneurs alike to continue viewing our social and environmental problems through the lens of impact opportunity.


Contributed by Kyle Mylius, Board of Directors for Green Canopy, Inc. & Aaron Fairchild, CEO of Green Canopy, Inc.

Green Homes, Green Builders & Built Green

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Recently I was asked by a neighbor if I knew any custom green builders. Ahem! I proclaimed - I just so happen to work for one! What can I do for you? They were interested in building their very own green home in the near future and were currently saving to buy property on Bainbridge Island. Great! Let me know when you're ready, I said - and I can get you started. 

My neighbor's next question is one that we get often. How do I know if a builder is a green builder? Do they have to be LEED Certified? To which I replied... first of all - buildings are certified, people are accredited. What you really should look for when searching for a green builder is whether or not those sustainable business practices are embedded in the culture, their people and their product. But also - LEED, while it is an incredibly robust program, is not the only green building guideline out there. In fact - Built Green carries many advantages in our region. It's tailored to the needs of the Pacific Northwest - and is incredibly in tune with the builder community here.

Of course my neighbor had never heard of Built Green - which goes to show that the USGBC has a great marketing budget and a good hold on the market. Still - any green builder should be familiar with both - and that was my point.

In light of the conversation with my neighbor - I decided that I would post our latest Built Green Case Study that was submitted to their newsletter. Every Green Canopy Home is Built Green Certified, but this one was a particularly amazing rehab project that presold in Ballard. We were happy to work with Evergreen Certified to get the job done and truly believe that Built Green is a critical brand and program in the Pacific Northwest.


CASE STUDY
ARABELLA: 6527 5TH AVE NW

What can you do with a harsh, stucco-clad bungalow in Ballard? This 1911 home was thoughtfully reimagined by Green Canopy Homes and reconstructed into a charming yet modern home with light and bright spaces, a stunning communal kitchen addition and vestiges of reclaimed features throughout.  

This 4 star Built Green Home, nicknamed Arabella, was gutted and rehabbed – maintaining 75% of the original structure. The project was carefully deconstructed, with building materials source separated and recycled on site. This process allowed the team to harvest framing lumber to reuse as a feature wall – highlighting the history of the original home. 

Arabella was in desperate need of systems upgrades and originally tested in at an EPS score of 37,000kWh per year – nearly 10,000kWh over the Seattle average. Green Canopy replaced each system, incorporated a ductless heat pump, rigorous insulation and air sealing as well as spot Energy Recovery Ventilators to maintain fresh air in the new super tight envelope (3.7 ACH @50 Pascals). The project finished out with and EPS score of 16,000kWh, reducing energy costs by over $1,400 a year!

In addition to deep energy efficiency upgrades, Arabella exemplifies intelligent site design and finishes. Drywells and a rain garden infiltrate 100% of storm-water on site, and the new addition’s low impact, post & pier foundation minimizes site disruption.  Arabella’s stylish “pickled” cedar siding was dipped in a natural wood treatment that never has to be reapplied and patinas for protection. Better for the environment, and less hassle for the happy new homeowners!

Whether you are in the market for a green home, interested in building your own - or just looking for builders - it might be important to know whether that builder is leading the movement - or just following market trends. All green builders in the area should be keenly aware of the certifications, accreditation, and sustainable business practices such as deconstruction and recycling. The kinds of homes we build and the intentions of the people who build them impact our community, so ask questions

"Density" Empowers Bold Conversations in Seattle

Contributed by Krystal Meiners

Good conversations are typically born in the company of good people. 

That was the driving thought when we created the Empower Happy Hour at the beginning of 2014. We wanted to have good, meaningful conversations with people outside of our own organization (because frankly we were all preaching to the choir internally and were probably consuming too much booze just to keep things interesting). What we didn’t want, however, was to host a formal event, or a networking opportunity. We wanted to have real conversations with interesting people, so the Empower Happy Hour was born.

The format of these events have always been the same… low key, in a bar, no nametags, no soapboxes, no formally led discussions – just a topic to unite us, an amazing sponsor and an impactful non-profit. Each event has been unique – but the most recent one in Ballard was especially inspiring and a great indicator for successful future events. We are truly thankful for the opportunity to have hosted with Sustainable Ballard and we were especially grateful to our sponsor Redfin Builder Services.

While this event was a bit different from our other Happy Hours - there were a couple of key ingredients that helped mold it into something very special and eye-opening.

1. An AMAZING question. 
Our non-profit cohost has always provided a topic of discussion for our happy hours – and Sustainable Ballard really hit it home with their topic.

a. Does Density = Sustainability?
b. Does Sustainability = Density? 

This two-parter really has a huge impact in Seattle right now and is on the tips of everyone’s tongues. Despite the "breathing room only" crowd – the quality of conversation was fascinating. Not everyone chooses to talk about the topic during our happy hours but this really captured the attention of many including Councilman Mike O’Brien who was discussing Ballard’s new apodments – considered both a scourge and blue-sky solution to housing in Seattle.

The rest of the conversations spanned walkability (a fun topic in light of Redfin’s recent acquisition of Walkscore) – as well as Ballard’s most recent developments and the addition of quality locations to eat, shop and sip. The idea of a “carless lifestyle” as the new definition of luxury was a spirited thought when considering the changing mindset toward livability in times of climate change and a return to urban living.

Not all of the conversations were light-hearted. Serious attention to community wants and needs and the impact of more density on transportation was a common topic; as was the builder-bad-guy issue with neighbors. Not everyone loves the way development looks, feels and changes a neighborhood – so thoughts on working with community were abundant. In particular - discussions around Green Canopy's new Neighborhood Design Survey and community meeting approach were inspiring to neighbors that had visited the event.

2.  Another key ingredient to the success of this specific happy hour was the LOCATION. 
We went against our own rules and decided to host the event in a small event space – but to keep it lively, we started off with drinks at the nearby Skillet – and then moved indoors. While it may have been difficult to corral folks - no one was lost and the “bar-hopping” effect made the event feel less stiff. 

Aside from just the venue – the fact that the event was held in Ballard – a community common to our hosts, co-hosts, sponsors and mired in the topic at hand – made it easier to talk about density relative to where we were all feeling excitement and pain. The Greenfire Campus was a perfectly inspirational space with only enough room to kiss or kill whoever you were speaking to. Skillet made for the perfect pre-funk, and Parfait made for the perfect after-hour snack.

We were very excited to host this event with Sustainable Ballard and Redfin. The event lasted well past our 6:30 cutoff and folks lingered having friendly discussions. While there was no Bocce, like our previous event at Von Trapps, and there was no policy big-wigs like our event with Climate Solutions – it was intimate, refreshing and exactly what we could have hoped for.

We definitely look forward to hosting many more Empower Happy Hour’s, and aim to keep them simple, sexy, and substantial. We hope you will join us the next one to help ADVANCE THE DISCUSSION.

The Empower Happy Hour is a quarterly event hosted by Green Canopy Homes. If you are interested in sponsoring the event or if you belong to a non-profit that is interested in co-hosting, please contact krystal@greencanopy.com . If you are interested in joining the event – please sign up for our Newsletter to receive updates on event dates and venues.

Where is Density?

Contributed by Krystal Meiners

As we gear up for the November Empower Happy Hour, I am excited to write an article that relates to the topic of Density.

Density is one of those subjects that can be mired in analytics – but it is also a very real phenomena that hits many hearts and can have an extreme impact on the life of a community. It has the capacity to improve or ruin neighborhoods – so it can be especially hard to know if you are doing it right.

One of my most recent and favorite density conversations was this past September at the Built Green Conference. The discussion was focused on enhancing Walkability in the suburbs by increasing the number and quality of connections between where people lived and where the wanted to go. The reason that I loved the conversation so much was because it completely challenged the notion that density does not exist in the suburbs.

Niko Larco, a professor from the University of Oregon and author of the book Site Design for Multifamily Housing: Creating Livable, Connected Neighborhoods, was the conference keynote. His address proposed that we take a new look at suburban density to see how we can make improvements in the walkability of what is currently existing. What he wanted to challenge was the idea that “No one walks in the suburbs”. Because, seriously… no one walks in the suburbs right?

When people think about the suburbs – they often think of sprawling single-family homes and whirling subdivisions that have no exits. It is true that this landscape exists a great deal in the suburbs and that this low-density development tends to blight  the countryside.

What we often glaze over, however, is the existence of real density. What Larco showed in his presentation was that DENISTY DOES EXIST in the suburbs. Maybe not in the single family housing that we are so familiar with – but perhaps somewhere else. What we are missing is that medium-density apartment developments are also a huge part of the suburban landscape and have been since the 70’s. While the analytics of density might point to extremely low ratios in the suburbs – the fact is that there are dense micro-developments that rival even the densest downtown core.

In fact, Larco and his students did a great study on walkability in the suburbs and surveyed hundreds of residents that live in apartment complexes throughout America. What they found was that, absolutely, people do walk in the suburbs. They walk to the convenient stores, they walk to the grocery store (even if it is through paths paved from hundreds of trips through the buffer zones), and they even knock down fences in an effort to get from point A to point B.

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I recall this kind of “suburban connection” from my youth. Particularly one that connected the woods behind my grandmother’s house to the back of the Dairy Queen. If we would have taken the paved route to this coveted location, it would have taken us three times as long to get our frozen treats – so we blazed trails, we pulled apart the fence and trampled through the poison ivy.

Now – while this kind of density isn’t what you would normally think of, and this kind of Walkability isn’t the type of trip that will show up on Walkscore – what I do love about this conversation is that it is about something more organic. It is about community-driven design in a sense. It is about people letting designers, planners and developers know what they want and where they want it.

It is about taking charge of your community. And that is really what this density conversation should be about, right? How can we enable the neighborhood to take charge of their community?

Larco has recently began working with apartment developers to give them a “recipe” for creating successful connections in and out of their development. Where these developers once built with blinders on – they are now noticing that, “hey, I don’t have to put up a fence around the whole property because there is this Pizza place right behind us.” And that saves money right?

It should and could be the same thing in any neighborhood. At Green Canopy we have recently taken steps to develop more community-driven designs. Our community meetings have become more robust – and our feedback is really changing the way that we design and develop properties. It is hard to marry what the neighbors want with what the market wants – but at the same time – there is no need to knock down fences, right?

Moving Past Infill Ill Will

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By Aaron Fairchild, CEO/Chairman of Green Canopy Inc.

The outcry against residential in-fill has reached a fevered pitch in Seattle. Neighbors are yelling at homebuilders, each other, the city, and anyone who will listen. The themes are relatively consistent; opposition to modern homes, bigger homes, added density, or the fact that projects are unaffordable to existing residents. Builders, on the other hand, are simply trying to build what the market demands – and that may well conflict. But, is the fevered pitch, and ill will around new in-fill developments in the Seattle area necessary, or is there a way to work together?

As someone on the front lines of the neighborhood hostilities trying to do business in a new way, I think there is.  By engaging with (and listening to) neighbors and being transparent about planning and decision-making beforehand, infill housing can become a welcome and community-forwarding endeavor. 

Having heard the angry outcry, and with a focus on continuing to build a human values-based business that contributes to communities, here are a few ideas for how this could be done: 

  • Listen, really listen, first. Changes within a neighborhood can be emotional for many. When you recognize that going in, even hearing concerns starts to build a trust pattern. While plans are still conceptual, hold a community meeting to receive input on the direction of your design.

  • Engage along the way. Especially with topics like sidewalk closures, site work, paint colors, etc. (We use Tumblr quite a bit on this front) Updating the community using a community blog demonstrates awareness that the developer is entering into an established norm of how the neighborhood functions. 

  • Acknowledge feedback and make Changes. When neighbors really see a result of their comments, whether as acknowledgement or in changes to the plan, trust is solidified, paving the way for the best possible relationship with the community throughout the construction process, and helping the new homeowner receive a much warmer welcome.


How is this good business? Engaging the community while building in close quarters with neighbors helps minimize angry calls and letters to the city, intense verbal discussions with subcontractors, and creates a much better work environment for everyone. By approaching our own projects in this manner, we’ve had neighbors bring us warm coffee, cookies, and offer to help. Our homebuyers are a welcome addition to the neighborhood versus being seen with skepticism and mistrust by association. All of this work helps create positive association with our company name and ultimately helps sell our homes.

In this day and age of transparency, builders really can’t “bulldoze” their way into a neighborhood.  If neighbors and builders alike can remain open to each other, listen and engage, we should all be able to learn together how to effectively rebuild our aging infrastructure, honor our past and lay the groundwork for a thriving future in Seattle.

This piece was written in response to a thoughtful article from Seattle Weekly entitled "Boomtown Brawls" by Nina Shapiro.