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Where We Live: Futurewise's Hilary Franz Speaks

The other half of Shoreline's Sustainability Forum

Last week I talked about Jay Manning’s presentation to the City of Shoreline’s Sustainability Forum. After he finished he turned the mike over to Hilary Franz, Executive Director of Futurewise, which motto is “Building communities, Protecting the land.”

Their focus is to “…work to protect forests, farms and shorelines by limiting development on critical rural and resource lands and habitat. We advocate and promote vibrant, compact, livable development in our urban communities by supporting housing options, transportation choices and smart development patterns.”

Ms. Franz, a longtime sustainable land use attorney and former Bainbridge Island City Councilmember,  talked a great deal about how we can improve our cities. As she puts it good design comes down to how we “move people, move water, move wildlife” She notes that Washington is expecting 2.6 million new residents by 2030, 1.7 million in the Seattle Metro Area, so we have to make a place for them- make Places for them. That influx demands we make this place the best it can be.

Historically, Seattle was almost all laissez faire, unplanned, then in 1889 the Great Seattle Fire wiped out about 30 blocks of the heart of town. In the rebuilding they regraded their downtown streets to improve drainage and buildability. Then in 1896 gold was discovered in the Yukon. Eighty percent of the Klondike would-be-miners embarked from Seattle and the city grew into the second busiest port in the US. Then one day Seattleites looked around and realized they had built a haphazard, ugly city in the middle of one of the most beautiful landscapes in the nation. The 1903 Olmsted Plan was adopted to design and build a dramatic collection of outstanding parks to take full advantage of the geography and civilize the place. Unlike Seattle we started out with a generous supply of parks, but this place was never designed as a coherent city, so there’s still plenty to do.

Shoreline, Franz insists, is a leader in Washington State on green issues, and can help instigate a ‘race to the top’ in green building. Our City Hall is LEED Gold and we can include such a standard in our code. I asked what the city could most immediately do. She suggests these incentives will do the most good:

  • Green Building and Affordable Housing
  • Smaller Housing
  • Transit Oriented Development  

Each can be started by permitting even one example. TOD may be just the opportunity to try out Tax Increment Financing to give us a chance to prepare for future needs. Ms. Franz insists any good projection of transit costs and benefits must factor in freight mobility, health benefits, and time savings.

“If we do not plan compact connected communities, we will see greater infrastructure costs, greater greenhouse gas emissions, loss of critical farmlands and forestlands, water shortages, and traffic gridlock, and loss of quality of life,” she said. “Compact growth equals significant savings in reduced transportation and infrastructure costs that can go to education and other needs- for cities and families.”

When anything is proposed it’s easy to get people riled up. As she puts it, “fear mobilizes; vision energizes”. It’s easy to be against something- a development or policy initiative or whatever- but you have to find a way to be for something, to plan, communicate, and include every citizen you can in a consensus for a coherent future. Her favorite example of bottom-up placemaking is Portland, OR’s City Repair, which is “…an organized group action that educates and inspires communities and individuals to creatively transform the places where they live.”

Essentially, they do, teach, and sponsor citizens coming together to make their own places better, whether it’s planting trees, removing unnecessary hard surfaces to improve natural drainage, or holding parties so everyone can meet. Just getting people together can generate excellent projects and results, but we also have some backing. Cleanscapes, our trash collection company, has a $10,000 grant program for neighborhoods which reduce their waste stream and City of Shoreline has its own $5,000 Mini-Grant program for recognized neighborhoods and $5,000 Environmental Mini Grants for individuals, businesses and community groups for nature oriented projects.

She covered a great deal of subject matter but was quite enthusiastic about urban agriculture. It turns out someone has already set it up in Atlanta. Once again, this is If we coordinate our ideas and efforts who knows what we can accomplish? That’s what we need to find out here.

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