Now imagine that the passengers have a say in where that ship goes by helping shape long-range visions and strategies for the future.
Thats some of the thinking behind Sustainable Thurston, a community conversation designed to chart a course into the decades ahead that meets the quality of life needs of todays residents without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs, too.
Last year, about 1,500 community members from elected officials to everyday citizens participated in the Sustainable Thurston project sponsored by the Thurston Regional Planning Council and fueled by a $1.5 million federal grant. They attended workshops, participated in a survey, helped write white papers on topics ranging from housing to water quality, public safety to economic vitality. And they drafted some visions of the future.
They looked at how the community will accommodate nearly 120,000 more people by 2035, bringing our total population to roughly 370,600.
They even figured out what kind of neighborhood densities it takes to attract a neighborhood cafe/bakery/coffee shop think San Francisco Street Bakery. The answer is sort of sobering: some 500 housing units within 1/4-mile of the business and 1,000 units within 1/2-mile, which is well above the typical neighborhood densities found in Thurston County.
You see, when the passengers started boarding the Thurston County ship in the 1970s, they spread all over the place, like peanut butter on a slice of toast. Sprawl was preferred and promoted over high density, urban living.
In addition, population growth is not so fast-paced that land-use will change overnight. There are already enough vested developments in the pipeline to meet the communitys growth needs for the next 10 to 12 years.
Thats one of the main reasons that the total population in the countys urban areas it sits at about 68 percent today isnt expected to climb past 74 percent in the next 25 years.
Thats also why we could lose more than 25 percent of our remaining prime farmland by 2035, short of some major farmland preservation effort.
In order to start turning the ship, its going to take an incredible amount of effort, said Kathy McCormick, a senior planner with Thurston Regional Planning Council. But if we dont start moving in a new direction, where are we in 25 years?
The answer is: Probably living in a community that lacks housing variety to serve a graying population and one that relies too much on cars to get around. Probably a community that loses too much farmland and open space, and one that squanders clean air and plentiful, safe drinking water.
The Sustainable Thurston planning process to date has flushed out three scenarios for Thurston County. The first reinvests in existing job centers and transit corridors. The second scenario builds on the first one, but seeks more public-private partnerships. The third vision seeks to create more village style neighborhoods in urban and suburban areas. I suspect the final product due by the end of the year, will be an amalgam of all three.
Sustainable Thurston represents the most significant land-use planning effort in South Sound since those triggered by the 1990 state Growth Management Act. Results of a July 2012 phone and online survey of Thurston County residents by the Washington State University Division of Governmental Studies and Services suggest it can be more than just a paper exercise. To wit:
* 85 percent of the respondents agreed that working together as a region to plan for the future will lead to improved quality of life.
* 56 percent are hopeful to very hopeful about the regions future. Another 31 percent are somewhat hopeful and 13 percent are not very or not at all hopeful. South county residents are a little less hopeful than north county residents. At the same time, the survey evoked a sense of urgency, with 35 percent saying their quality of life has deteriorated in the past 10 years, compared to 42 percent who said it stayed the same and 24 percent who said it improved.
* The quality of life priorities identified were: public safety (19 percent), followed by environment (15 percent), jobs and economic growth (12 percent) and public education (11 percent).
Theres still plenty of time to get involved in Sustainable Thurston. Public workshops are scheduled 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. for: * March 27 at South Sound Manor, 455 North St. SE, Tumwater. * March 28 at Rainier High School, 308 Second St. W, Rainier.
Lets keep the Thurston County ship headed in the right direction.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 firstname.lastname@example.org