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An Uncommon Partnership

The “green built” Issaquah Highlands has won multiple awards and stands as a successful example of an urban village that emphasizes walkability, sustainability, economic vitality and community. Twenty-plus years ago, well before the first foundation was poured, Pomegranate Center and the developer, Port Blakely Communities, forged a unique and somewhat controversial relationship regarding development of the 2,200 acres of Issaquah’s forested hillside. At the time, many sceptics viewed the Port Blakely developers as “the enemy”, and resented Pomegranate Center’s involvement.

What critics were missing was the fact that Judd Kirk, CEO of Port Blakely Communities, invited Pomegranate Center’s Milenko Matanovic to be part of the planning in order to incorporate more community-enhancing elements – elements meant to make the community more livable and accessible for future residents. By being involved, Milenko was able to advocate for centrally located gathering places and parks adorned with public art that now stand as centerpieces of the community.

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Ashland Park

At Ashland Park, Milenko built hand-carved shelters and benches using materials recovered from construction, trees that were uprooted and rocks uncovered during digging. Today, this park is still an excellent example of a community amenity made possible by high density; private backyards were traded for a larger public space with a tot-lot and space to kick a ball or hold large parties. The result is greater connections and trust between neighbors.

 

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On a different street, what might have been a boring and imposing water tower, Milenko embellished with brushed “wisps” of reflective steel depicting clouds and rain.

Though developers didn’t use all of Milenko’s ideas, his influence can also be seen in the placement of groceries, restaurants, doctor’s offices, a movie theater and shops, only a 5 to 10 minutes walk or bike ride from residents’ homes.

Milenko describes his then controversial move to work with Port Blakely by saying:

“If the land was going to be developed anyway, why stand at the sidelines and complain? It’s much more effective to agree to disagree on some points but continue the discussion and work together to come up with community plans that are more sustainable and beneficial for all.”

To celebrate the area’s continued growth, change, and exemplary sustainable practices, Matanovic has been invited to give a keynote presentation at the February 11 Twenty Years of Sustainability UnConference. For more information, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-future-of-sustainability-a-community-unconference-in-issaquah-highlands-tickets-20630530472