It’s a word that, for some people, elicits shouts of glee and wonderment at the expectations of what is on the horizon. New. Better. Improved.
For others, the exact opposite is true: no change, no how, under no circumstances. This is the way we like it, and darnit, we want to keep it this way.
The problem is, change is inevitable. The way it was five years ago, or 25 years ago, is never the way it is now. Change is coming; to hijack a common bit of wisdom, "change happens."
The downtown condo towers that have made the news in the last few months are one of those polarizing subjects on the topic of change that often splits city residents into two camps: the "growth is good" camp and the "stop the Bellevue-ization of Bellingham" camp. Oddly enough, the "stop the towers" folks are very often the same people with a "Stop Urban Sprawl" bumper sticker on their car, right next to the one that says "Stop Chuckanut Ridge." In other words, stop sprawl, and promote infill … but not here next to us, and not in yucky towers that don’t look like the rest of our quaint, quiet little downtown.
This thinking is flawed. People are moving to Bellingham, and nothing the "keep it like it is-ers" can do or say is going to stop that. These new residents will need housing, and they’re not all going to live in the multifamilty units growing like Scotch broom across Bakerview and Cordata.
Verticality downtown promotes the most people in the smallest footprint in the most desired location: in the heart of the city core, at the nexus of our public transportation system, and in an area starved for more residents.
Some of the arguments by residents against the towers concept are that these towers depersonalize people and force a high-population density that takes away personal contact between residents.
We couldn’t disagree more. Having a downtown with more residents spending time in the area’s eateries, night spots, and retail stores will not "depersonalize" our city now, no more than it did when the Bellingham Towers building was built. Bellingham’s character remained intact after that project was completed, and there is no valid, quantifiable reason to think that the same will not be true as these towers rise downtown.
Moving to Bellingham and living in a condominium doesn’t make you suddenly unfriendly — although having to listen to so many people say they don’t want either newcomers or the building you live in might accomplish that task nicely.
Our downtown has turned a corner from the ghost town it was 10 years ago, and there is no going back. More people downtown means a continued boost to its vitality, and a vital, thriving downtown is far more people-friendly than a city core that closes at 5 p.m. and doesn’t even open on weekends.
We can’t have our cake (infill) and eat it, too (no towers, no change in the character of the city’s neighborhoods). These tower projects will take a bite out of sprawl and promote downtown’s continued growth.
Yes, they mean a change in the way we think of our downtown — but, in our opinion, it’s a change for the better.
by Rik Dalvit