Commentary: VISION 2050 prepares for a future of our choice

A regional effort looks to find the best fit for growth, jobs, housing, transportation and environment.

By Dave Somers

For The Herald

Across Snohomish County we have significant job and housing density driven by our historic growth. All forecasts suggest this trend will continue: the newly designated Cascade Industrial Center and Paine Field are focal points for local, high-skilled jobs. In addition, we have growing educational options and an increasingly robust transit system, one that will be expanding over the next 20 years.

While there is inevitably some struggle that accompanies growth, there is an historic opportunity to help all families benefit from our economic successes. As we grow, it is also important to balance that growth with the protection of our natural resources and support for our most vulnerable communities, preventing more people from being pushed to the margins.

How does this balancing act between growth and protection work? With multi-county long-term planning, it entails a lot of data, an ability to compromise, and the sustained engagement of the public.

Almost 2 million people will move into Snohomish, King, Pierce and Kitsap counties in the next 30 years. That means the four-county area is absorbing about 67,000 people each year — as many people as now live in Lynnwood and Lake Stevens combined! That’s more than 40 percent growth across the region. Jobs are also expected to increase on a similar scale.

Regional planning is essential to help us accommodate new people, protect our environment and rural areas, increase housing and transportation options, and foster community. Growth is coming, but we can manage it in ways that reflect our values and protect our unparalleled quality of life.

The Puget Sound Regional Council is responsible for developing a regional growth plan that includes all four counties and looks forward 30 years. This planning helps local governments and businesses make good decisions. It helps the public know that their values are reflected regionally in the planning decisions we make.

The draft VISION 2050 Plan is now available for public review. This plan has already received significant public comment, and it puts health, life expectancy, housing affordability, clean air and equal opportunity at the forefront. This also reflects the values of the many leaders from each county who have been active in shaping this plan.

Not surprisingly, one of the most consistent themes we hear from residents from across the region, including Snohomish County, is the need to protect our natural environment. Both new and established residents deeply value having access to the Puget Sound, mountains, wild lands, green spaces and protected open areas that are clean and sustainably managed.

Housing affordability is another major theme of our planning process. The pressure on the housing market is driving up costs for everyone, and people from all income levels are worried about the effect rising costs will have on their families and neighborhoods. For too many people, the rising cost of living outpaces their paychecks. We must do more to help everyone maintain their quality of life.

The draft VISION 2050 plan also does more to encourage housing and job growth in the same geographic areas. This allows for shorter commutes, less traffic and pollution, and a better quality of life. This is of particular concern in Snohomish County, where many of our residents are stuck on traffic for far too long every day. I’m one of those people.

Multi-county planning supports local decision-making by allowing us to be proactive in deciding how the inevitable growth will affect our communities. VISION 2050 sets the stage for future decisions about how to better connect our communities, protect current residents, and help our children and grandchildren thrive here too.

It’s crucial that your voice be heard. I have been involved in this process from the beginning because we want to be sure the plan will support Snohomish County families today and for generations after us. I encourage each of you to become involved. We have the ability to plan for the future we choose, not just let it happen to us. But you are the key.

Dave Somers is Snohomish County executive and is a boardmember with the Puget Sound Regional Council.

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