Lynnwood confronts economic, climate challenges

Lynnwood, like many other cities, is grappling with the twin challenges of a struggling economy and the realities of climate change. But there are new opportunities emerging in the face of this crisis that will help set Lynnwood on a path of economic success in an environmentally sustainable way.

The first opportunity is bringing light rail to our city. Approved by voters this November, this light rail system will connect Lynnwood to Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond and SeaTac as part of a 55-mile system helping thousands of people get to work and school using frequent and reliable transit service. Additionally, by the end of next summer Lynnwood residents will have the opportunity to hop aboard Community Transit’s new express bus service (SWIFT) connecting to Everett and Seattle along the Highway 99 corridor. Building and operating these systems will create new jobs for our residents, bring new money into our city, and help spur our local economy. This transit system will keep Lynnwood residents moving comfortably and on time while protecting our environment and saving us all money.

The second opportunity is through the way we envision and build our communities. The Lynnwood City Council recently adopted a Sustainability Element to the city’s Comprehensive Plan. This means that as we plan our city’s communities, we will consider the impact that they’ll have on our climate, our economy and our overall sustainability. This forward-thinking approach will set us on the early road to economic and environmental sustainability.

More than 1.6 million people are expected to move to the Puget Sound region over the next 30 years, and a fair number of them will live, work and recreate in Lynnwood.

As part of our desire to be proactive and manage this growth, Lynnwood is planning and working for the development of a true city center. In the Lynnwood City Council’s vision, this new downtown will be like an urban village with pedestrian-friendly walkways and promenades, street-level retail and boutique shops and higher-story office and residential space. It will truly be a place that feels like a community where people will want to live, work and play. If our city is to grow and thrive, we will need to embrace the idea of appropriately sited density like that in an urban core where running into your neighbor at the corner grocer or bakery or coffee shop is a common occurrence. Managing rather than simply reacting to growth is also how we preserve our single-family neighborhoods.

The third opportunity lies at the state level. In 2009, the Legislature will consider a proposal to create more transit-oriented communities in our urban regions statewide. This proposal, one of four Environmental Priorities, will revise our transportation and land use planning frameworks to assist cities like Lynnwood to plan for growth in a sustainable and climate-friendly way. Lynnwood is already moving in this direction with the adoption of a Highway 99 Revitalization Study that incorporates transit-oriented and pedestrian-friendly development along the length of this corridor. Particularly around the planned Community Transit Swift bus stations, this study is looking at bringing retail to the street front with ample off-street parking utilizing structures above and below ground, adding wide sidewalks and green spaces, and generally positioning Highway 99 to move into the future with new energy and higher levels of community engagement.

With state help, we will have additional resources and tools to implement this successfully. The bill will provide incentives to developers and local governments to create more affordable, transit rich communities encouraging this kind of responsible development.

Lynnwood has the opportunity to lead by example. We can create vibrant, affordable, walkable, and bike-friendly communities connected by frequent, reliable transit service. We can take the economic and climate crises and turn them into opportunities for our city and residents. Building these 21st century communities will create a healthier, safer, affordable and vibrant Lynnwood while reducing congestion, combating climate change and strengthening our local economy. Together, we can seize these opportunities and continue to make Lynnwood a place “we are all proud to call home.” We hope you’ll join us!

Mark Smith and Lisa Utter are members of the Lynnwood City Council.

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