WWU students enlisted to work on a downtown Arlington plan

Students and faculty at the Bellingham school have worked in a similar way with other municipalities.

By Douglas Buell / The Arlington Times

ARLINGTON — The city of Arlington is enlisting college students to create a downtown corridor plan and bring a fresh perspective to the look and feel of its main street.

The City Council last week voted to contract with Western Washington University’s Sustainable Communities Partnership for a year of courses and community-engaged learning aimed at helping develop a plan for downtown that will lean on business owners and others for support.

The city has worked hard over the past several years on initiatives to revitalize the downtown corridor, said Sarah Lopez, city community revitalization project manager.

“We want to have a strategic long-term plan that addresses retaining the character of the area, identifying improvements, capitalizing on the Centennial Trail, expanding the physical main street area, using the Main Street programs and identifying smart growth initiatives,” Lopez said.

Costs will not exceed $37,500.

WWU program coordinator Lindsey MacDonald said the Sustainable Communities Partnership has a track record of working with several north Puget Sound cities and counties, drawing students from more than a half dozen disciplines.

“My job is to connect student energy and faculty expertise with the real sustainability ideas and challenges facing communities,” MacDonald said.

Students and faculty worked with Bellingham on a door-to-door Whatcom County Disaster Preparedness Survey; with Ferndale to review downtown design regulations and create a city center plan; and Monroe for trail design, research and public outreach for the U.S. 2 By-Pass Trail and transportation analysis measuring connectivity improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Tasks toward completing Arlington’s corridor plan would include workshops, visioning, surveys, interviews and researching existing building and street conditions to develop alternative urban design ideas based on the community’s preferences. In later courses, student teams would explore downtown design standards, suggested city center amenities such as streetscape and urban design improvements, wayfinding and the regulatory reform and public and private investment opportunities that could take plans to the next level.

Councilwoman Debora Nelson asked how the end product from the students would be used.

Lopez said the results would enable the city to start budgeting to carry out the plan, seek grant opportunities, and identify projects the council, Downtown Arlington Business Association and others invested in downtown can get behind.

“We haven’t done a lot of outreach to create a downtown plan,” Lopez said.

Mayor Barb Tolbert said the downtown plan goes further than the ideas for infrastructure such as sidewalks and streets that emerged during the America’s Best Communities competition a few years ago. The downtown plan would also help prioritize projects for funding.

University of Washington students a decade ago developed guidelines for Olympic Avenue that helped define the character of a downtown that now is thriving.

The Arlington Times is a sibling publication of The Daily Herald.

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