Report from the region’s dinner tables | 2015
What if people came together to imagine what this place could be?
As an organization that cares deeply about our region, we’re certain of one thing—you cherish this place. You’re drawn to the majesty of its natural landscapes. You crave connection to the outdoors. You value our working lands and you are resolute about finding a way to thoughtfully grow our region.
More than a decade ago, we created the bold and ambitious Cascade and Olympic Agendas. They crystallized our approach to sustaining this region for future generations—to safeguard and conserve our natural and working lands means we must also champion smart land use decisions in our built communities. But advocating for a sustainable region demands continued attention to the quality of life here. And who better to voice what life should look in this place than each one of you?
So we asked you to weigh in so we could listen and learn. Over the past year, we hosted a series of informal dinner table conversations (and also queried folks online) to help map the direction our region should head. We’ve heard from more than 2,000 people. The broadest cross-section of the community sat down with Forterra, ranging from rural resident to city dweller, native Washingtonian to recent transplant, tech industry worker to farmer—we strived to bring all voices to the table.
These dinner table talks were held both in Forterra’s offices and throughout the region. They were successful because they were two-way conversations. They also stood out for what they underscored: No matter who gathered at the table and no matter the locale—downtown Seattle, Roslyn, Mason County—we all share a common vision for this place.
These are some of the biggest takeaways from over 30 conversations to date:
A strong identity is key
Communities want healthy, vibrant cores they can embrace and show off to visitors. Rural towns especially want to be “known” as distinct like cities are, instead of being lumped together. Rural communities sometimes feel isolated and removed from the prosperity and economic and political clout of the I-5 corridor. There are communities throughout the region that could be recreational and/or cultural meccas–they just need help getting onto people’s radars.
Traffic is horrible. We can’t easily get from work to home. Commute times eat into time with our families. Infrastructure is in constant need of repair and maintenance. There aren’t enough buses or bus lanes, making it harder for people to embrace mass transportation. In the end what suffers is the environment due to the demand we’re putting on our land.
A changing population
The workforce is aging in certain sectors (forestry, for example). Rural communities are facing a brain drain and in other places, newcomers don’t have a deep connection to this place and their numbers sometimes strain relationships between them and long-term residents. People of color are being priced out of cities and are, thereby, exiting them. Droves of tech workers are moving here and don’t necessarily have the same priorities of home ownership and/or owning cars. But as these workers start having families and their priorities change, what will this mean for our region?
Its impact is seen in more fires, higher insect populations, lower snowpack and drought. It’s putting growing pressure on our region—and it’s happening at the same time more people are moving here.
People can’t afford to live where they work. Supplying quality housing for the lowest of income levels is one of our biggest challenges. Folks are witnessing a growing class divide, negatively impacting the health and livability of our communities. There is value in diversity—racial, economic and intellectual.
Our region has outstripped its infrastructure. Whether rural, suburban or urban, people crave walkable communities. This goes hand in hand with smart growth needed to protect our natural resources. Yet infrastructure isn’t only about transportation; people want leaders that focus on “social” infrastructure that connects and brings neighbors together. Technology, while providing innovative new ways to relate and conduct business, has upended what it means to engage with one another. Safe streets and good schools are key components of healthy communities.
Parks are critical to the health of a place. Not only do they connect us to nature, there is value and appreciation for spaces that can be shared. Our wild lands are key definers of what makes this region special and they are prized by urban and rural dweller alike. Outdoor recreation could provide some small towns with important additional economic opportunities for some towns.
We need to hold our elected officials accountable. We need strong, community-minded voices at the decision-making table. Organizations like Forterra must continue to convene the public, to hear all points-of-view and to lead. Forterra can help foster the next generation of leaders and keep us informed about the issues that matter. It can tell the story of this place and it can amplify our concerns and our desires so this region can prosper.
We invite you to read more about each dinner table conversation here. We also count on you to keep talking as we continue to host these conversations face-to-face and on our website. In order to lead, we need to know what you’re thinking. There’s power in listening.