Planners warn county needs to create regional smart growth

by mary lane gallagher, The Bellingham Herald

6/24/02 - Whatcom County needs to develop a regionwide plan to accommodate the almost inevitable population growth that will come as its big-city neighbors grow beyond their own boundaries.

That was the advice from the dozens of international planning experts who attended the fourth annual International Workshop on Sustainable Land Use Planning held this weekend at Western Washington University.

The urban planners, landscape designers, researchers and other land-se experts are all members of the International Study Group of Multiple Use of Land. Part of the conference had the planners touring growth areas in Skagit County for a case study of how the region could accommodate growth without allowing the quality of life to deteriorate.

Such "smart growth" is a task communities around the country face as well, said speaker Michael Pawlukiewicz, director of environmental policy for the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute. Within the next 20 years, the United States will grow by 50 million people, roughly the equivalent of the number of people now residing in the states of California and Texas, he said.

"The people are coming and they're being born," Pawlukiewicz said. "We have to accommodate them in such a way that it makes our community even better than it is today, in some ideal sense."

One of the first steps, international planners said, is to communicate planning challenges and ideals with the public.

"Make this regional plan a public issue," said Barbara Tress, a Dutch landscape researcher. "Make it something everyone is talking about."

And make sure there are as many ideas coming from the populace as well as from political leaders, said Barbara le Maire Vandall, who works for the Danish Ministry of Transport as a road beautification designer.

It's important to communicate to people, particularly those in urban areas, that what draws people to the community, is the character of its landscape, which can be jeopardized by thoughtless growth, said Adri van den Brink, a professor of land use at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

Tress, Vandall and van den Brink were presenting ideas from others who had attended the conference. Many of the experts at the weekend's meeting were from the United States, and the Netherlands, but some came from as far away as China, Uganda and India. Australia, Germany, Japan and the Slovenia were also represented.

The conference was sponsored by Western Washington University's Huxley College of the Environment and the Cascadia Pacific Center, a Bellingham-based not-for-profit organization that advocates for smart growth initiatives in the region of small cities and rural areas sandwiched between Vancouver, B.C.,and Seattle.

Robert Tibbs, the founder of the Cascadia Pacific Center, said he hopes to present a regional business plan by December that shows how the region can use its location to its advantage.

Wayne Schwandt, managing director of the Trillium Corporation, said there's already a project in the works that could draw regional or even national attention to the community. Trillium is working on a plan to turn the 150 acres of industrial land on Bellingham's waterfront, currently the home of the idled Georgia-Pacific West Inc. mill, into "an icon for this area."

Trillium plans to cull ideas for the site from meetings around the region and in Bellingham, then present those ideas to designers for an international competition of who can come up with the best plan for the waterfront site.

"Then we'll start to narrow down from the ideal to the accomplishable," Schwandt said.


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]