On the Washington coast, the new community of Seabrook is creating shared public spaces and a sense of community in a sustainable environment.
The new beach town of Seabrook is so appealing and ambitious you’d expect to find it on the Oregon or California coast rather than way up north by Moclips in Washington. In the past four years this 83-acre “new urbanist” town has been built from scratch on a hillside above one of the most beautiful beaches on our coast.
The traditional, shingled houses are clustered to foster neighborliness and preserve shared green space. The place drips charm, even if its slightly nostalgic perfection is a bit too much like “The Truman Show.” In fact, the movie was filmed at Florida’s Seaside, a model of new urbanist success that in part inspired Seabrook’s philosophy and design.
My favorite definition of this current design phenomenon comes from www.newurbanism.org, which calls its movement “the revival of our lost art of place-making” and “promotes the creation and restoration of compact, walkable, mixed-use cities and towns.” You definitely feel you’ve arrived somewhere distinct when you drive into Seabrook. Cars are quickly abandoned for footpaths or the free, readily available bicycles. You’ve never seen so much property devoted to public space.
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Sustainable and earth-friendly aren’t just sales buzz at Seabrook. Its owner and planners are so devoted to natives that they’ve planted the whole town with them. You wouldn’t believe how good an alder allée looks, especially when underplanted with deer ferns. Granted, it helps to have an oceanside setting and plenty of brawny cedar stumps and nurse logs so the natives look right at home. Crushed oyster shells from Willapa Bay line the alleys, drives and walkways. The shells’ light-reflecting surface amps up illumination in this gloomy climate.
Director of town development Stephen Poulakos and landscape manager Greg “Woo” Haskins are enthused at the chance to define a new town with plants indigenous to its location. All the trees removed from the site are milled locally and put back into the landscape, either as edging for beds or as roofing and fencing. The only lawns are a couple of shared greenswards that are cared for organically, as is the whole landscape.
The public areas are planted entirely in natives, and private gardens are at least 70 percent natives, with an occasional hydrangea and hardy fuchsia thrown in for color. The look is loose and imaginatively varied, and will have even more impact as the young plants mature. Remnants of the coastal forest have been left wherever possible, so the houses are set in hemlocks, fir, cedar, salal and huckleberries.
Besides providing wildlife habitat and requiring less maintenance, water and fertilizer, the native-plant landscape has another terrific benefit, says Poulakos: “It’s quiet on the weekends. There’s no mow and blow going on around here.”
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Her e-mail address is email@example.com.