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This Apartment Building Is A Micro-City For An Entire Alaskan Town

Whittier, Alaska’s 14-story Begich Towers has its own post office, police station, health clinic, and grocery store

Begich Towers (photo by Jessica Spengler, via Wikimedia Commons)

About an hour southeast of Anchorage is the small town of Whittier, Alaska. In its pleasant summer months, when daylight can last nearly twice as long as in the lower 48 states, the town serves as a beautiful tourist destination and port of call for cruise ships along the Alaskan coast. But Whittier has another claim to fame that sets it apart from its neighboring communities: Nearly all the town’s residents—close to 200 of them—live in a single building, Begich Towers, a former army barracks that’s been converted into a 14-story apartment complex, complete with its own post office, laundromat, and grocery store. The town’s governmental offices are there, as well a small health clinic, the police station, and even a bed and breakfast on the top floor.

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Residents of Transit-Oriented Development Say "No" to Transit

What happens when a neighborhood is transit-ready but its residents are transit-averse?

See that expansive patch of grass? That's where the light rail was supposed to go. But the residents of King Farm, a 440-acre community in the outer suburbs of Washington, D.C. who knowingly moved into this transit-ready development have decided they don't actually want the transit. In fact, a city council member and King Farm resident said the proposed light rail (which the community was designed around) would bring "no benefits" to the neighborhood while being "incredibly disruptive."

Such a reaction doesn't come as a complete surprise. A few years ago, I sat around a table with developers to plan a new housing development in Florida. Some of us were eager to make that community less car-dependent, others less so. My colleague and I presented several design options that would encourage people to walk and get to know their neighbors. One was the creation of a central location where residents would come to pick up their mail; another was a neighborhood cafe as an alternative to the proposed drive-thru Starbucks in a strip mall on the outskirts of town. As we were showing renderings, we were interrupted by a member of the team who said with no small hint of frustration in his voice, "Sorry, but you can't design for the way you want people to behave."

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