Let's Not Play On Their Turf

Progress, sustainability experts say, is not growth or change, progress is improvement, and improvement comes in flavors: economic, social, and environmental. The Harbor Square Master Plan, as currently being pushed, equates progress with just one kind of improvement - economic - while the social and environmental effects aren't merely being ignored, they're being victimized. If that's not bad enough, the Port, and the proposal advocates, are using unsubstantiated points to back their concept of economic progress. As follows:

(1) We need residential units to increase our tax base.

So 350 units, 15 to 20 years from now, is our best solution to current economic woes — not to mention how the construction will make economic matters worse in the meantime?

(2) Young professionals will flock to these condos so they can take Sounder to work in the morning.

Perhaps, in 15 to 20 years, young people will find Edmonds more attractive than they do now. No one can predict either way. What we do know is that in 15 to 20 years, light rail will have come to Lynnwood and a modest urban village isn't going to save Sounder as a commuter passenger service.

(3) Housing over retail is an economic sure thing.

No, it isn't. How will buying a dress in an urban village rather than in downtown help Edmonds? It's not as if we're hurting for retail space. Will we need more retail space in 15 to 20 years? There's a problem we hope to have, and one we should deal with if and when it happens.

(4) The Harbor Square Master Plan has been an open process.

No, it hasn't. I was a member of the original citizen group. Our choices were limited to variations on a theme of increasing the height-limit and changing the zoning to allow residential. Opinions that diverge from those of the Port have been ignored.

(5) The people want it.

No, they don't. Edmonds citizens have voted against candidates who advocate relaxing height limits, time and time again. In his campaign literature, Mayor Earling stated that the height-limit debate was settled long ago. What happened to that assurance?

Advocates of the Port proposal have proceeded with blinders, a total unwillingness to consider options, to look in any direction but up, at taller buildings. A total unwillingness to stray from a mega-project that entails tons of concrete and threatens our environment. A total unwillingness to assist the entrepreneurial spirit that exists with thriving businesses such as the micro-breweries, athletic clubs, the summer market, our arts community, the spread of happy hours. In sum: a total unwillingness to respect market forces over central government planning.

Anyone can criticize, I get that, so what do I believe the people of Edmonds want? That's not a hard question. What do people like about Edmonds? What are we already supporting? How can we expand on that? What do we want more of? Is there something you see in other cities and environments that you want for Edmonds?

The easiest way to predict what people will support is to create more of what they already support. Look, for example, at the many happy hours in Edmonds. Did someone from Edmonds government say what we need are happy hours? Nope, some restaurant owner thought they'd bring in more customers during these hard times, by charging less during their less-crowded hours. Better to have lower margins for a couple of hours than an empty restaurant. Nearly every restaurant/bar in town followed suit and, suddenly, Edmonds is a destination, including for the seldom seen, around here, young adults.

Here's what I don't get: Officials from Edmonds have touted the ideas of Roger Brooks — there's a link to his presentation for Edmonds on EdmondsWA.gov — but the Port plan is the antithesis of what he advocates. Brooks states that thriving cities don't thrive because of top-down planning, but from bottom-up entrepreneurialism; that cities don't thrive from mega-projects, they thrive from community gathering spots such as plazas and public markets.

Here's why I won't lend credibility to the Port's approach. By focusing on building heights, zoning, and liquefaction zones, our minds are still occupied by the details of a project to nowhere. Our thoughts are being colonized by a plan conceived and promoted by a handful of advocates who have pretended to listen to the community, and have pretended to listen to an expert, Roger Brooks, on what makes downtowns work. As long as we talk about modifying this plan, rather than looking at entrepreneurial and bottom-up community ventures, we will be playing on their turf.

Let's abandon this waste of time and money; let's abandon what people have said, over and over, they don't want, and return to the ideas that even city officials say we should be promoting.

It's worth stating, again: it's not about building heights, not about zoning, not about liquefaction, it's about creating a place for community, for participation by the people of Edmonds, and a destination for those who will be attracted to our public spaces and creative business community. Edmonds is a gift — let's show our appreciation.