Bridging divisions in Everett

Divisions and boundaries on their own aren’t the problem. Boundaries are what determine our neighborhoods, where our children will go to school, what our ZIP code is.

The problem arises when those boundaries — geographical, political, social, economic and cultural — separate, disenfranchise and discourage others from speaking up and participating in the larger community.

Those divisions in Everett and how we might begin to cross boundaries more frequently are being discussed in a two-part forum hosted by the Friends of the Everett Public Library. As part of its “Making Connections” series of forums, the Everett Public Library hosted a discussion Wednesday night at its Evergreen Branch, “North and South Everett: What’s the Difference.” The forum continues at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 28, at downtown’s Main Library Auditorium, 2702 Hoyt Ave.

Herald Columnist Julie Muhlstein, in her column Wednesday, talked with the library’s Assistant Director Kate Larsen, about the topic.

“Everybody who lives in Everett, you hear north and south Everett all the time,” Larsen told Muhlstein. “Does that contribute to any division or not?”

Judging from the comments from the 17 Everett residents who attended the first forum — some from the south, some from the north — there are divisions, particularly as they relate to services and the representation of Everett residents.

Some residents in the south end of the city said they rarely ventured north for shopping, seeing little to draw them there. Those who live in south Everett, said one woman, tend to shop there, or head even farther south to Lynnwood.

A few expressed the feeling that the tax dollars that they pay in aren’t always matched fairly with city services. With south Everett generating much of the sales tax revenue, why is it, one man asked only half in jest, that north Everett gets the hanging flower baskets?

The issue goes deeper than flower baskets, of course. For the past 40 years or more, as Everett expanded south, there seems there was little thought given to the amenities that north Everett was provided early on, in particular parks and sidewalks. Opportunities to add them now are either rare or expensive.

One solution discussed, and one that’s been looked at before, would be to elect at least some Everett City Council members by district, rather than at-large. Keeping two or three positions at-large, four to five council members would each have to live in the district he or she represents, with the intention of providing more accountability and better representation of the city’s diverse neighborhoods. Muhlstein’s column Wednesday notes that only three members of the current council live outside of north Everett.

District representation might also encourage more voter participation throughout the city.

It’s not a simple change to make. The city’s charter would have to be amended, a process that would take a public vote authorized by a council resolution or a public initiative.

Another suggestion could be more immediate, asking council members to adopt specific neighborhoods and meet regularly with those residents.

And don’t underestimate the value of the library’s forums, themselves, to bridge divides and encourage discussion.

The fence between neighbors is a boundary, yes, but it also can be a good place to talk.

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