O-POP spells good things for Olympia

There’s a new organization in town called Olympians for People-Oriented Places whose mission is “to promote land use that stimulates vibrant economies and creates sustainable, walkable communities.”

It’s led by the kind of smart, young, civic activists and uberhipsters who define what’s cool in Olympia.

O-POP members seek to counter the naysayers to urban growth, and thereby help save forests and farms from suburban sprawl. They are convinced that well planned, well designed urban density can be people-friendly; provide more open space; and promote a more sustainable, affordable, prosperous and diverse community.

Figuring out how to make room for an additional 20,000 residents in Olympia in the next 20 years is the primary challenge. To do this, the city will need greater housing density along urban transit corridors, and a significant number of new housing units downtown.

But there are plenty of people who will loudly say they like Olympia just the way it is and want no change, and others who are OK with change as long as it’s not anywhere near their own neighborhood.

O-POP will work to get all of us to think about our community as a whole.

O-POP’s strategies are elegantly simple:

▪ Advocate for responsible land use.

▪ Educate our community on good design and the critical impacts of unplanned growth.

▪ Support community leaders in moving good projects forward.

▪ Model positive civic engagement.

Last week, O-POP advanced its “educate the community” strategy by attracting well over 100 people to an event that featured local architect Ron Thomas. He described just how complex and risky it is for a developer to get financing and city approval for a new project. He also described the professional and personal financial devastation many developers experienced during the Great Recession.

Now, he said, economic recovery means there are numerous big projects on the horizon for downtown Olympia, which he believes is entering a period of renaissance more significant than anything since the 1950s. An Olympia native, Thomas remembers the Sears store located at Legion and Franklin; as an architect, he recently redesigned that building into Thurston First Bank, the Three Magnets Brewing, and nine loft apartments. The building is far more handsome now than it was originally.

Olympia can become more beautiful as it grows.