Fishing for waterfront ideas

By David Cuillier

Herald City Editor

EVERETT — When Ann Breen got to her bed-and-breakfast room Friday night in Everett, she picked up a brochure that touted the community as the "city of smokestacks."

That’s grit, she thought.

It’s the kind of heritage that reminded Breen of Detroit, Boston, Pittsburgh and other gritty cities she’s seen that started out with concrete-block waterfronts and were eventually transformed into scenic, bustling hubs of people at work and at play.

It can happen in Everett, Breen told about 150 people at a waterfront town hall meeting Saturday.

Breen, co-founder of the Waterfront Center in Washington, D.C., showed the crowd what other cities have done throughout the world to improve their waterfronts. In her one-hour presentation as part of The Herald’s Waterfront Renaissance Project, she showed about 160 slides.

They included trails, fountains, farmers markets, environmental centers, shopping and nature preserves.

"It takes time," she told the crowd in the Snohomish PUD auditorium. "It also takes leadership. It could be that the time for Everett has arrived. But Everett has to be Everett."

Breen, whose nonprofit organization travels the world to help communities look closely at their waterfronts, said that given what she’s seen in the past 20 years, Everett has great potential for increased public access to the waterfront.

She suggests residents and leaders be aware of some key components:

  • Two government jurisdictions, the city of Everett and the Port of Everett, have to work together despite their sometimes opposing missions, she said. That can be tough, because ports generally focus on industry and jobs, and cities often look out for parks and public access.

  • Strong leadership is required. Someone has to be appointed to coordinate efforts in a holistic manner, and that person has to have a passion for the waterfront.

  • Community support is the starting point. One audience member, David Mascarenas of Everett, told Breen that he wished more residents would get interested, but that people tire of city politics. "I understand the cynicism," Breen said. "But if there are enough concerned citizens, something can happen. Just don’t sit there. Form a group. Get your friends together. You have to always fight City Hall."

    It’s also the little things that are important when developing a waterfront: lots of garbage cans, good restrooms, no chain-link fences, easements for trails along the shore, open areas for people to congregate and fun activities.

    Breen suggested looking at efforts in other cities, such as Vancouver, Wash.

    A similarly sized city, Vancouver also had a waterfront that was primarily industrial. In 1987, the city’s newspaper, The Columbian, started writing stories about the waterfront. It attracted the interest of residents and the city manager, who then appointed a parks employee to lead what they called the Columbia River Renaissance.

    Within a few years, the waterfront had a bustling public trail, an environmental education center, new parks and a growing community of condos and shops. All while still maintaining jobs and industry.

    Tom Koenninger, who was editor of The Columbian before retiring this year, also spoke to the Everett crowd, saying the first step is talking about it.

    "I see a lot of similarities between here and Vancouver," Koenninger said.

    Breen said there is no magical formula, and Everett will have to do what’s right for this area and its history.

    "You’re like Pittsburgh, like a lot of gritty cities," Breen said. "It’s part of a heritage that might not thaw right away.

    "At the end of the day, it’s going to take the community to make it work. … It’s not easy. It’s pulling together."

    You can call Herald City Editor Dave Cuillier at 425-339-3426

    or send e-mail to

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