Praise for Olympia Design Month and funding for a new shelter

Pedestrians make their way along the Percival Landing boardwalk on Columbia Street near the Port Plaza and Farmers Market in downtown Olympia. Olympia Design Month will look at urban design that encourages and discourages people to get out and walk around.
Pedestrians make their way along the Percival Landing boardwalk on Columbia Street near the Port Plaza and Farmers Market in downtown Olympia. Olympia Design Month will look at urban design that encourages and discourages people to get out and walk around. toverman@theolympian.com

A few happenings we’d like to reflect on this week.

Helping Olympia grow with people in mind

There is a special place in heaven for people who are community-minded and who inspire the rest of us to learn more about our city and its future.

Janae Huber and Jami Heinricher are two such people. Both are active in Olympians for People-Oriented Places (OPOP), a local group that advocates for land use and design policies that create livable, sustainable, walkable and compact cities. The two have spearheaded a month-long series of six events and various activities called Olympia Design Month that celebrate and promote good urban design. 

Huber says that “through these six events, the month-long Gallery of Architecture, and a series of affiliated events, we’re celebrating the ways good design enlivens our community, enhances its unique qualities, and makes Olympia a more people-oriented place.”

To do this, they’ve drawn together the Olympia Downtown Alliance, builders, architects, businesses, urban planners, artists, building owners, and developers.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday (May 8) at First Christian Church, “How Buildings Happen” will provide a short course on what it takes to design, finance, permit and build housing and other structures. This will be an eye-opening evening for those who wonder why private-sector developers find it so hard to build housing that ordinary mortals can afford, much less the low-rent housing that minimum-wage workers, people with disabilities and people who are homeless so desperately need.

Subsequent events will include conversations about the “Elements of Design” that affect our responses to the buildings we see, a guided walking tour of downtown architecture, a panel on how residential design can promote welcoming and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, and a closing event where local architects talk about what inspires them. Woven into all these discussions will be conversations about how city policies and processes affect what gets built, where it gets built, what it looks like, and how the public can affect city decisions.

In addition, there will be “affiliate events” such as an artists’ studio tour, a guided walking tour showcasing the development of Percival Landing, a month-long special display of books and films about design at the library and at Browsers Books, and signs in downtown windows that show what historic buildings looked like when they were new.

We hope these events will build a broader constituency not only for good urban planning and architecture, but also for deeper thinking about how to shift course towards planning for inclusion and integration of people from all income levels in a beautiful, walkable and sustainable Olympia of the future.

Legislature funds a new shelter for high-need homeless adults

Rep. Beth Doglio and local advocates won $3 million in the state capital budget for construction of a new 24-hour shelter for 60 of our area’s most vulnerable homeless adults. It’s rare to get state funding for a shelter; the state’s Housing Trust Fund typically funds only permanent housing.

This is a big win for Interfaith Works, which currently operates a smaller shelter in the cramped basement of First Christian Church. And of course it’s a win for the city, and for the people who are medically fragile or mentally ill and need care.

The shelter will be on the ground floor of a larger building that will include 60 units of permanent housing with staff support to ensure residents get the care and services they need to stay housed. This $13 million building will be financed with a combination of government funds and tax credits, and will be located on city-owned property on Martin Way.

Winning this initial $3 million is the critical first step towards raising the balance of the funding needed. If all goes well – keep your fingers crossed – construction might start a year from now, and occupancy could come a year later.

Yes, it does seem to take an agonizingly long time to bring a project like this to fruition. That’s one of several reasons why our crisis of homelessness has no quick solution.

Today is the first day of Ramadan

Today is the first day of Ramadan, a lunar month-long religious observance by our Muslim community, who will fast from sunup until sundown each day until June 4. This is a period of reflection on leading a virtuous life for Muslims across the world.

The local Muslim community includes people with roots in many countries, and is centered in a beautiful mosque in Lacey. The land for the mosque was originally donated by Cham Cambodian refugees who came to this area at the end of the war in Vietnam.

We wish our Muslim neighbors peace and happiness during this holy month, and in the year ahead.