Neighborhoods and Nature: An Analysis of the City of Lakewood

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest in a small pocket of the South Sound in the city of Lakewood, Washington. Lakewood is nestled just 40 miles south of Seattle, WA and is bound by Interstate 5 and Puget Sound. The nearest major city to Lakewood is about 10 miles North, in Tacoma, WA. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I am no stranger to the outdoors and natural environment. The Pacific Northwest hosts a slew of different natural environments to explore including mountains, ocean, forests, grasslands, deserts, which host a variety of biodiversity all hosted in a beautiful array of national and regional parks. This energy of the natural environment has crept its way into the identity of many surrounding cities and town around the PNW including my own city. While my city still can push more environmental features, the city of Lakewood definitely has some strong biophilic features compared to other cities in the United States.

Brief History of Lakewood

Lakewood is actually a fairly new city (established in 1996), but the region has a particularly rich history. Originally, the region that would become Lakewood was called “The Prairie”:

Lakewood was called The Prairie in the beginning - an expanse of land about 20 miles square, dotted with small lakes and occasional stands of Garry oak trees. Steilacoom and Nisqually Indians used the Prairie as a ready source of food and held gatherings before the advent of the white hunters, trappers and settlers. This abundant Prairie, midway between the Columbia River and the city of Vancouver, BC, was chosen by the British in 1833 as the site of Fort Nisqually, one of the fur trading post operated by the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). The bickering over the boundary between England and the United States was finally set at the 49th parallel in 1846. With the fur trade in decline and increasing harassment by American settlers, Fort Nisqually finally closed in 1869 and the United States paid the HBC $460,000 for its land. (Dumond)

The region was originally a place for Native Americans to fish and trade. Gradually, the region seemed to grow over decades of fur trapping, farming, and milling as the Europeans pushed the Native Americans off the region’s land. The area’s land became neighborhoods to settlers and towns started forming. After WWII many people stayed around the region since they were stationed at Joint Base Lewis McCord which is abutting the Lakewood region. Lakewood, in its early days, “was known as the ‘playground’ for the region’s elite who would come down from Seattle on the weekends to enjoy the lakes, golf courses and other amenities” (The City of Lakewood). The environmentally rich region was like a paradise for stressed city goers who wanted to relax and participate in outdoor activities. The area officially became an incorporated city in 1996 and has been growing ever since due to the proximity to Joint Base Lewis McCord and from Seattle employees who want to live somewhere cheaper and commutes to the city (many times through the public transportation of the Sounder Train). As Lakewood continues to grow, citizens need to work together to protect the green-rich environment and natural amenities that generations of people have experienced.

Taking Stock of the Nature of Lakewood

Map of Lakewood Map of Lakewood’s Parks

The City of Lakewood is home to bustling activity of environmental features. Lakewood is home to “14 parks consisting of more than 540 acres,” “five lakes totaling nearly two miles of water area,” historical gardens, and (unfortunately) three golf courses. It’s no surprise from the name alone that Lakewood has a variety of lakes and woods spread across its city lines. While the suburban area definitely has negative environmental features (which comes along with suburban living) like unnatural green grass lawns and strip malls which have a lot of parking, particularly on the area labelled “Lakewood Towne Center”, there are still a lot of great environmental resources around where I live. While I could spend time unpacking each of the 14 parks and five lakes, I will just focus on general observations in a few key areas of my neighborhood.

Fort Steilacoom Park is the largest concentration of greenery and environmental connection within the city of Lakewood (which is located in the Northwest corner of the maps above). There are many diverse passive and active recreational activities and events that citizens can enjoy through the year at this 340-acre park full of forests a lake.

Features include an expansive trail system, baseball, softball and soccer fields, a state-of-the-art playground, permanent orienteering course, a radio-controlled aircraft area for hobbyists, off-leash dog park, two picnic shelters and year-round restrooms. We even have a dedicated 5k route through our trails and walkers can follow the Discovery Trail markers around our nearly 1-mile long paved Waughop Lake Trail loop. (City of Lakewood).

I have spent hundreds of hours at this park throughout my life. Whether it be playing on the playground as a little kid, running during cross country or other 5k races, spending time with friends exploring the woods, going to local events hosted at the park, etc. Many community events take place here including Summer Fest, a City of Lakewood event that brings all of the community together to celebrate local businesses (who have booths), local artists (who perform on the pavilion stage built in the park), and local culture. The park is highly accessible. Pierce College, the local community college borders the edge of the park and Lakes High School, one of the local high schools of the city (that I happen to live next to and attended), is extremely close, 5-minute walk from the park.

Discovery Trail Signs: connecting people with information about the natural environment

Anytime you go to the park on a sunny weekend, expect to see a lot of runners, bikers, walkers, and hikers enjoying the trails and paths while sports leagues of soccer, baseball, and football utilize the field, families host parties at the covered areas, and many kids love playing on the playground. This site is very important in getting citizens connected to the outdoors and exploring natural sites. While people enjoy walking the mile loop around Lake Waughop, they can also read about the local plants, animals, and history of the site on Discovery Trail signs. Fort Steilacoom parks brings history, nature and people altogether in an exemplary park.

View of American Lake Park with Mt Rainier in the background

American Lake is the largest lake within Lakewood and provides a variety of activities for the diverse population of the city. The lake has two public parks, two golf courses, boat launch accesses, connection to Joint Base Lewis McCord, and many private houses which have access to the lake. Recreational activities of the lake include swimming, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, boating activities (like waterskiing, wakeboarding, etc.), and more. American Lake connects the citizens with Lakewood to a lake environment with Discovery Trails (much like the ones seen above for Fort Steilacoom Park). Fish species include “kokanee, largemouth bass, rainbow trout, rock bass, smallmouth bass, and yellow perch” (WDFW). While I was kayaking, I have personally seen many bird species like bald eagles, hawks, seagulls, crows, and many more (that true bird enthusiasts would know the names of). American Lake becomes a fantastic place to relax, participate in recreational activities for fun, exercise, leisure, etc. and also connect with nature and learn about local plant and animal species. Nature and city begin to collide in these parks providing citizens with valuable environmental experiences.

Map of Current Lakewood Towne Center

The Lakewood Towne Center is the economic hub of the city. This Towne Center used to be a mall in the 80’s and 90’s but then disbanded and became a part strip mall, part department store shopping conglomeration in the early 2000’s. Now, this shopping center contains many clothing stores, grocery stores, barbershops the City Town Hall, the movie theater, and many other stores. The Lakewood Towne Center is than shopping core of the region and is unfortunately the place with the least amount of greenery in the city (and in a later section of this paper will suggest changes). All of the parking lots have minimal landscaping trees around the parking lots to satisfy city planning codes. The minimal landscaping provides a minimal connection to nature (shown in the images below). While the shopping center is going to “install 1,800 solar panels” and is looking to “minimize carbon footprint, their sustainability policies aren’t addressing their large footprint of parking lots covering the area, some of which are hardly ever used (Lakewood Towne Center). Aside from the landscaping and view to the mountain, the shopping center should be much more biophilic then it currently is since this is where the core of the population shops. One upside is that a few years ago, the city began farmers markets events on Tuesdays during the summer, reactivating apart of one parking (shown below on the left) to sell local produce, foods, and arts.

Examples of Lakewood Towne Center Landscaping. The left parking lot becomes a farmer’s market

Measuring Biophilia

Biophilic Conditions and Infrastructure

Lakewood is fairly biophilic. The population of the city is “59,350 people”, dispersed over around “1,200 acres” and there is around “540 acres of parks” in the city (City of Lakewood). This means there is about an acre of park for every 110 residents. Around 45% of the land in Lakewood is apart of a park, which is extremely high. Unfortunately, it seems that looking at the parks map from page 3, not everyone would be within comfortable walking distant from a park, but might be within biking distance to a park or a lake. Also, while looking at the maps on page 3, it’s easy to see the amount of greenery within the neighborhood. Aside from the dense parking lots of the Lakewood Towne Center, evergreen trees are overtaking the majority of the city limits. While an actual estimated figure of canopy cover of Lakewood hasn’t been calculated, the combined area of canopy and water in the city seems significantly higher than most cities when looking at the maps.

Biophilic Activities

The opportunities for recreational opportunities and natural connections within the environment feels quite high in my region. While my region has the iconic Pacific Northwest gloom of grey clouds and rain that may keep people inside, there are a variety of great outdoor activities that get people out of the house of a nice sunny day. A lot of these activities are described in the “stock” section of the paper. To summarize, there is a lot of hiking, biking, running, swimming, boating, kayaking, golfing, and more outdoor activities in Lakewood. Most of the fun recreational activities, aside from indoor entertainment like the movie theater and similar things, occur outdoors.

While no official charter exists for all of current clubs and organizations focused on environmental/biophilic efforts, there is a lot of activity in this field happening in Lakewood. Organizations like Accurate Environmental Services LLC, American Society for Environmental History, Small Tribes Organization of Western Washington, Puget Creek Restoration Society, Lakewold Gardens Society, Lions Club, and other clubs, churches and organizations have efforts to help the environment through different facets. Many churches have nature clean up days where the whole community goes to certain parks and cleans them up of all the trash. The Boy Scouts of America in our community often have service projects that help improve our local parks by adding additions or bolstering existing infrastructures in our parks. Many choose to help improve the trails that many take advantage of by clearing them, adding bridges, etc.

There is a wide range of volunteering opportunities in the city that will help give back to the community while being in nature. A high percentage of people volunteer in the Lakewood community. While there are no current statics of volunteering in Lakewood, I would guess it’s high by the variety of programs and the number of waitlists there are for certain volunteer events. Opportunities include joining a city advisory board, administrative volunteers, “adopting a street”, Eagle/Gold Scouts projects, Fort Steilacoom Dog Park Monitor, special events volunteer, youth coach, parks maintenance, fixing fences, pulling weeds, moving wood chips, volunteering at the senior centers, and much more. The local high school students have to help out and volunteer at least 50 hours on a service project or through an organization. The city really works to have an engaged community that is deeply connected to the outdoors.

Biophilic Governance

Lakewood’s biophilic governance could be stronger than it currently is. While the culture and the environment of Lakewood lends itself to biophilia, the current codes and policies could uphold nature in a stronger way. One politically active organization, Lakewold Gardens, maintains a botanical garden that takes visitors through the history and present of Lakewood plant species. Lakewold Gardens is a “municipal institution” which creates “biophilic engagement and learning,” a strong start to biophilic governance according to Professor Timothy Beatley, a leading expert in Biophilia (Beatley, 49). Another sign of a start to biophilic governance is two goals within the Comprehensive Plan of Lakewood:

S-7.9: Develop a sustainable urban forest management program through partnerships with local


S-7.10: Expand Lakewood’s street tree system by adding low maintenance trees, including native

species, to alleviate greenhouse gas emissions. (City of Lakewood, 211)

In other words, the city has begun to strive to sustainable manage its forests and begin to plant native species for new landscaping efforts around the city. Other than these two goals, the sustainability section of the comprehensive plan documents very loose and generic goals to “lower the city’s carbon footprint” (City of Lakewood, 211). Other than that, within public schools in the city, there are now environmental classes available to high school students to learn more. Unfortunately, that is all the biophilic governance that Lakewood has currently began. There should definitely start to become more biophilic governance in future comprehensive plans that begin to pour into budgetary promises of conservation and protection of the natural environment. I would suggest that Lakewood adopt a “local biodiversity action plan,” dedicate a “percentage of local budget” to the “nature conservation, recreation, education and related activies,” adopt “green building and planning codes,” and create a “number of city-supported biophilic pilot project initiatives” (Beatley, 49). Although Lakewood only has a small start to biophilic governance, the small steps they have begun to take is a sign that they are beginning to consider governing in a more biophilic way.

Suggestions of Biophilia

Map of Suggested Biophilic Action of the Lakewood Towne Center

Lakewood needs to focus on creating a more biophilic urban core for the citizens of the city. The Lakewood Towne Center is the main economic hub of consumerism that most every citizen travel to every week to shop. This is also the least green place of the city, covered in cement, concrete, and wasted rooftop spaces. There are some suggestions I would like to make to create a more aesthetic and comfortable complex which embraces the relationship between the city and nature.

1. Green Roofs. A green roof is a roof covered in vegetation which look better, saves energy costs, becomes a rainwater buffer, and purifies the air. If the Lakewood Towne Center began to convert their roofs to green roofs or place more solar panels on the rooftops, this space becomes activated instead of just becoming wasted space that wastes energy. These large roofs covered in vegetation already makes the map less gray and greener. The buildings themselves would also begin to break the boring mold of a typical strip mall/shopping complex and begins to look much more beautiful. The benefits- socially, economically, and environmentally- are overwhelmingly positive.

Current view of site labelled 2: an empty parking lot

2. Convert the parking lot in the southeast corner back into a green site/playground. The site labelled two is currently an empty parking lot behind the AMC Movie Theater and Barnes and Nobles Book store. There is an overabundance of parking spots at the Lakewood Towne Center. By shifting this lot back into a park, then there will be more activity that occurs in this central core of the city. It would be nice to transfer some of the park energy found at Fort Steilacoom Park into the life blood and core of the city. This unused asphalt back into a green site, the community can actually use this area of the Towne Center as public space, thus activating the city’s core through the beauty of nature. Why waste all this precious space near the core of the city on unused parking?

UpGarden’s P-Patch on Mercer Parking Garage in Seattle, WA

3. Convert parking lot to a city garden. Much like the aforementioned site 2, site 3 is a wasted amount of concrete for parking that no one really uses. Since the Lakewood Towne Center has already provided an overabundance of parking, the city should convert some of the under-utilized areas of parking into public gardens. A company called UpGarden partnered with the Seattle government to create “P-Patches” that are public gardens in unused regions of the city ( One of these P-Patches are on the top of the Mercer Street Parking Garage in downtown Seattle. I think utilizing the same format, Lakewood can create some of these P-Patches in the Lakewood Towne Centers underused parking lots. A public garden can increase socialization within this urban core while also increasing the citizens’ connection to nature. This would also be an engaging connection to the already existing farmer’s market that occurs within the Towne Center.

4. Create a network of green pathways that act as bike/pedestrian paths around the city. The image below shows the bike path separated from the road by greenery and landscaping. I think this could be a very engaging way to allow other circulation about the city aside from driving cars. This would also be a great way to make biking and pedestrian traffic much safer. There are currently too few bikes lanes about the city and the ones that do exist are far too small and feel a bit unsafe. By making these greenways, greenery will sew together the entire city. Also, people will be able to better access public parks by biking down the greenways to them. As Lakewood continues to increase in population every year, it will be important to start to put in place radical ideas that will help traffic circulation, access to public parks, and greenery in the city. This option will fulfill all of the incoming issues with one easy method of creating greenways.


Lakewood is lucky enough to have an abundance of natural biophilic elements that have made a community who values the environment. The region of Lakewood has, historically, always been lucky enough to value the beauty of nature. But, as the population of the city grows, there needs to be a conscious effort not to endanger the natural environment that generations of people in this region have enjoyed. While Lakewood has a lot of great programs and projects that bolster their biophilia, there need to be more efforts in the future, especially in the sphere of governance. Our community needs to band together to protect the semblance of the environment so that our relationship of city to nature can continue to blossom.

Works Cited

“About Lakewood.” City of Lakewood,

“American Lake.” Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife,

Beatley, Timothy. Biophilic Cities: Integrating Nature into Urban Design and Planning. Island Press, 2011.

City of Lakewood. “Sustainability,” Comprehensive Plan. Lakewood, WA: October 2019. Web.

Dumond, Val. “Lakewood History.” Lakewood Historical Society: History,

“Lakewold Gardens: Historic Botanical Garden Estate.” Lakewold Gardens: Historic Botanical Garden Estate,

“Parks and Recreation.” City of Lakewood,

“Sustainability.” Lakewood Center,

“UpGarden P-Patch – Bringing P-Patches to New Heights.” UpGarden PPatch,