Op-Ed in the Seattle Times

Growth, if done right, will let this region grow gracefully

This guest editorial by Forterra President, Gene Duvernoy, was originally published in the Seattle Times on January 31, 2016. View the original here >

The reaction to Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) Committee—and the equally charged regional discussion on relaxing the Growth Management Act—could leave the impression that people are turned off by growth and either want to stop it or shunt it elsewhere. Yet based on a recent survey and focus groups with residents in King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties, that’s too simple an assumption.

Our survey was conducted online and spanned 638 adults in the four-county area—highly diverse in age, income and occupation, from teachers to tech workers to waiters. The survey was taken by the national polling firm, Heart+Mind Strategies, with financial support from Forterra, the Puget Sound Regional Council, the Metropolitan King County Council and Amazon. Its findings were confirmed through some 30 focus groups.

The survey started with a mood check. We asked people to visualize a 10-rung ladder of contentment where the highest rung is “best possible life” and the lowest rung “worst possible.” On average, respondents peg themselves at 7.2—more than a point higher than people elsewhere in the country. Why this greater satisfaction? They cite our area’s phenomenal scenic beauty, all the recreational and cultural opportunities, our dynamic economy and—yes—our growth.

Eight in 10 see growth as inevitable. Fifty-four percent think growth should be encouraged and fostered (with an additional 17 percent leaning that way). But growth needs to honor certain values.

Our region is uncommonly beautiful and people want it to stay that way. A ringing 72 percent say they want more protection for farms, working forests, shorelines, natural areas and parks. This implies strong continuing support for the Growth Management Act and concentrating new arrivals in existing cities and towns.

People also want communities that are affordable and socially diverse. The region’s cost of living has been rising fast, and with it income inequality. Fully 20 percent of survey respondents fear being displaced from a home, neighborhood or school that they and their children are rooted in and cherish. Seventy-four percent want their communities to provide a range of housing that meets the needs and budgets of all residents. And a solid majority (54 percent) wants current residents and businesses to benefit as their communities change and grow, and not be displaced.

Now a major caveat: Yes, people are receptive to growth, but fumble transportation and that support could dissolve. Traffic congestion ranked as respondents’ single biggest concern, and inconvenience is the least of it. If you’re trapped on the highway, you’re not with your kids, socializing with friends or enjoying the outdoors—in other words, experiencing the high quality of life that makes this place special. The good news: 72 percent favor investing in more train lines and buses, and 63 percent want growth concentrated along new public transportation corridors so people can leave behind their cars.

What does this all add up to? As I see it, our region’s citizens are saying yes to growth—if it’s done right. We have the chance to build on promising efforts governments have already started and become a national—even international—model for growing gracefully.That means concentrating growth into existing cities and towns, especially around new public transportation. It means embracing, not displacing, economic and cultural diversity. It means an unrelenting focus on mobility. It means continually adding to our stock of park and, farmlands and working forests.

A resounding 82 percent of people in our survey want government, business and nongovernmental organizations like mine to coalesce around such a vision. The time is now. Let’s act.