In Urban Design, You Don’t Have to Leave Creativity at the Door

When I first started working for The RJ Group, I wondered how working for a land developer might shatter my Pollyanna disposition towards sustainable urban planning and green building. Having graduated from Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University, my education was largely centered around dreaming big about sustainable development. I feared for my transition to the real world, where rules and regulations supposedly guide a vision rather than creativity. Development tends to be villainized and I couldn’t fathom leaving all of my practical sustainable design knowledge behind in favor of conforming to the rules.

The truth is, the Washington State population is only growing larger and land development is a necessary element to that growth. We can either bust out the pitchforks and torches and fight the changing urban landscape tooth and nail, or we can accept that while land development may be inevitable, it doesn’t have to be burdensome, impersonal, or problematic.

There seem to be two general paths that can be taken in new development: One, continue large-lot greenfield development, which encourages urban sprawl and further stresses our dwindling resources, or two, find creative development solutions on previously developed sites. This is known as infill development and it’s changing the way that The RJ Group does business.

Infill development is advantageous for many reasons. A previously developed lot requires fewer civil improvements, is typically located near existing community resources such as bus lines and grocery stores, and can generally improve a neighborhood by bringing new life to an underutilized property.

Better still, infill development under the City of Bellingham’s Infill Toolkit allows for denser-than-typical development, a critical element considering the current housing crisis. For this reason, infill is a double whammy when it comes to meeting The RJ Group’s mission – it provides a creative solution to a serious community need, that need being housing that is attainable for various socioeconomic classes.

Four years after graduation, I can confidently say that I have yet to become jaded. After some reflection, I’ve concluded this can be attributed to the fact that The RJ Group doesn’t settle for conforming to the rules. I never had to abandon my sustainable design ideals because it has become a staple of our company to prioritize urban design above all else, and we truly care about the impact of this design on the local community. Sometimes it is necessary to challenge the rules in order to create favorable design, and we are always up for the challenge. It is our hope that we can approach land development with a collaborative mindset and leave every project feeling that we made a positive impact. Today, we are achieving this via infill development. How this will manifest in the future is unknown, but it certainly is exciting to consider.

I look forward to sharing exciting tidbits on our current and upcoming projects as we continue to establish innovative design solutions for the housing markets within Whatcom and Skagit County! What type of housing solutions would you like to see in Bellingham and beyond? Feel free to leave a suggestion in the comments section below.