Downtown has room for economic diversity

Tasty eateries. Swanky shops. Trendy grocery stores, tree-lined streets and tip-top views. That’s the downtown vision Everett City Council members will consider Wednesday. That’s the downtown city planners and citizens had in mind when they put together an exciting development plan – the downtown that may shape Everett’s future.

And that’s the downtown some people fear.

They’d like city officials to explain how low- and modest-income residents fit into downtown development.

Fortunately, an explanation should suffice.

Everett’s proposed growth directive sounds promising – a cleaner, brighter, busier, more residential city center could stimulate economic growth and improve Everett’s image. The region is growing, the city is maturing. Undeniably, it’s time to move forward.

But some worry part of Everett’s population will be left behind. The plan calls for more market-rate housing downtown – housing planners hope will attract and sustain upscale shops, services and restaurants. The plan doesn’t call for low-income housing. It’s market driven.

City planners say there’s no cause for concern, because downtown Everett already supports a significant amount of low-income housing. Housing Hope and the Everett Housing Authority manage a number of large buildings devoted to low-income tenants. In fact, the city has discouraged further concentration of low-income housing in downtown for years. Officials rightly believe low-income housing should be dispersed around the city.

As of the 2000 census, 20 percent of downtown Everett residents were living in poverty. In order to support a healthy retail base, planners believe the city center needs more residents with disposable income. However, planning director Allan Giffen promises development won’t affect low-income housing currently located downtown.

That’s a good thing. Although it makes sense to disperse low-income housing throughout the city – no one wants downtown or any other neighborhood to feel like a ghetto – the city’s center is a transportation hub and many support services are located nearby.

Moreover, low-income residents have a role to play in Everett’s future. If city officials want to cultivate a metropolitan atmosphere downtown, a vibrant, creative, attractive district, they must embrace a variety of businesses, ideas and people.

Some skeptics think property values and expensive stores will drive low- and modest-income families out of downtown. Some backers may hope that’s true. But development and diversity shouldn’t be seen as mutually exclusive.

City planners are ready for revitalization. They’re also tuned in to low-income needs.

So far, so good.

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