Julia L F Goldstein

How Are You Changing the World?

Do Drive on the Grass

May 29, 2016 by Julia L F Goldstein

In my last blog post, I promised to tell the story of my visit to Clearwater Commons in Bothell, WA, where you can indeed drive on the grass. Property owner Tom Campbell gave me a personal tour on a day when I really wished I had brought my jacket, as the temperature had dropped 20 degrees from the day before.

Clearwater Commons is a very unusual "neighborhood." To reach it by car, I turned off from a suburban thoroughfare, complete with generic strip malls. Once I followed the dead-end side street for a quarter mile it was like being in the countryside, surrounded by trees and just steps away from a creek.

The houses are built on pin foundations, which makes them look more like cabins in the woods than suburban homes. Pin foundations include a concrete pier placed on ground level, with steel pins driven down through holes in the concrete to secure it. Wooden risers complete the look. Such foundations are more often used for stairways or decks, but they can support an entire building. 

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="787.0"] Houses in Clearwater Commons, showing pin foundations. Photo courtesy of Clearwater Commons  Facebook page . Houses in Clearwater Commons, showing pin foundations. Photo courtesy of Clearwater Commons Facebook page . [/caption]

The reason Clearwater Commons built the houses on pin foundations was to allow rainwater to flow underneath the buildings and into the ground below, part of the plan for a community with zero stormwater discharge. This design is not without drawbacks, the primary among them being the lack of basements or garages. But it seems like the residents here are folks who agree with Tom and value low impact development above having covered parking and a place to store their stuff. I'm guessing they have much less excess stuff than the rest of us, who tend to keep way too much in our 2- and 3-car garages.   

The pathway running along the length of the development between the houses is made from so-called driveable grass, small square bricks with vegetation growing between them and a layer of sand underneath, allowing drainage of stormwater. It is intended primarily as a pedestrian path - residents park their cars in a lot in front of the development - but vehicles can drive on it.   

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="960.0"] Driveable grass at Clearwater Commons. Photo courtesy of Clearwater  Commons  Facebook page . Driveable grass at Clearwater Commons. Photo courtesy of Clearwater  Commons Facebook page . [/caption]

Tom and I followed the driveable grass path on foot to a trail that led to the nearby North Creek, where engineers have modified a dam to allow salmon to more easily reach their spawning grounds. We didn't see any salmon that day, but it probably wasn't the right time of year.  

The next stop was the rain gardens at the front of the property, built along the paved road to keep all stormwater within property limits. Tom lamented that some of the trees weren't as healthy as they should be because of last year's unusually hot summer. But, overall, it appeared that the rain gardens were doing their job. 

As we traversed the parking lot, much of which is covered in permeable pavement, and I took out my car keys, Tom pointed to my blue VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI and asked, "Is that your car?" I sheepishly said yes, feeling guilty about the fact that my so-called "clean diesel" car is anything but, and is spewing huge quantities of pollutants into the air every time I drive. 

Tom used to have the same kind of car as mine. Fortunately for him, he decided to sell it before the whole fiasco came to light. Supposedly VW will be announcing the details of a buy-back program within the next few months. There will also be an option for VW to repair the cars, but I've heard that the repair process works best on the newest cars, and mine is a 2011. Besides, repairs will negatively affect mileage and performance. 

This means I need to start shopping for a new car, years sooner than I would have had the VW scandal never happened.  I'm seriously thinking of getting an electric vehicle this time around.