Photo: Paula Tullar
Bellingham, WA is one of the greenest cities in the United States. Among numerous lists that have cited this city in northwest Washington as among the top five or ten green places to live, Forbes magazine has rated Bellingham the second greenest metropolitan area, and Country Home magazine rated it as the third greenest city. Whether it is first or third or twentieth, there is no question that this is a place where people take their responsibility for the environment seriously.
Today, I am pleased to welcome Bellingham's mayor, Daniel Pike as a guest blogger. I asked Dan to write about his city's green initiatives, its commitment to sustainability, and to what extent that has helped mitigate the current financial crisis. Here's what he had to say. Take it away, Dan. . . .
"Bellingham is a community of about 75,000 people tucked into the northwest corner of Washington State, itself tucked into the northwest corner of the continental United States. As a community, we share the challenges and joys common to most communities: tough finances, a rising unemployment rate, businesses struggling, but also a shared sense of place and connection with our neighbors. What makes us a little different from the mainstream, though, is our commitment to a triple bottom line, or TBL, approach to the issues before us. In Bellingham, the conversations are not about jobs versus the environment, rather the community talks about how to grow better. This is a community whose ethos receives notice from authors such as Bill McKibben and Paul Hawken, and that National Public Radio’s “Marketplace,” in its Nov. 15, 2008 broadcast, described Bellingham as “the epicenter of a new economic model for a post-consumerist economy: locally produced goods and services focused on what surrounding communities need and can sustain.”
Does this approach, does this ethos matter in an era where most economies, large and small, personal and communal, are deteriorating? I think so, though perhaps not for intuitive reasons. Bellingham is not being spared from economic pain because it strives to do right, as a community. However, we are working together well to deal with both the immediate crisis and longer term solutions.
We are, in fact, a community, not just a haphazard collection of souls sharing a living space.
In Bellingham, we work from a position of positive intention. Intentionality is a powerful force. Intentionality is transformative. An individual, or a community can choose to default to the way things have always been done, or act in response to reality. Or, an individual, or a community, can choose to shape reality, to act out of a conviction about what reality should be. In Bellingham, we choose the latter. When I took office, one of the first things I did was inventory the City’s resolutions and commitments to green practices, along with new and ongoing initiatives. These commitments and practices spanned the areas of climate and energy, green building and planning, transportation, watershed protection, Lake Whatcom stewardship and habitat protection and restoration.
But our green vision is even broader, and as a community we are committed to identifying new and better ways to manifest our values. For months, diverse members of our community – builders, neighborhood leaders, community health leaders – met to collaborate with the City in developing a toolbox of strategies neighborhoods can choose from to achieve our shared infill goals, reducing the drive for sprawl. Beyond this, Bellingham’s green vision involves a deep commitment to sustainability. Our efforts at sustainability are consistent with a true TBL approach, encompassing not only our existing—and award winning--green practices, but other vital elements such as economic development and community engagement strategies.
Perhaps the most compelling opportunity we have put in practice as a
Triple Bottom Line approach is our waterfront redevelopment project.
The waterfront project is the largest waterfront redevelopment effort
in North America, comprising about 220 acres on Puget Sound, on the
site of an old pulp and paper mill. The redevelopment is one of a
handful of national Leadership in Energy and Environmental
Design--Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) pilot projects. This
approach steps beyond construction-specifics to include elements like
reduced automobile dependence, housing and jobs proximity, access to
active public spaces, and habitat conservation and restoration.
This is our opportunity to thoughtfully and intentionally design a new neighborhood that reflects our deepest values as a community – to make real the vision the community has been articulating and advocating for years. We want to see a waterfront neighborhood with a street grid designed to move people, not cars. We want to see public spaces that encourage civic and cultural relationships, that are designed to foster and encourage the shared experience of conversation, art and music. We don’t want suburbia on the waterfront, but rather, a natural extension of our downtown core – the extension of a neighborhood where the community can live, work and play. The City is absolutely committed to making real this community’s vision.
The idea of “emergent interaction” is active in some branches of science and philosophy. Where reductionism understands systems by reducing them to their smallest constituent parts, emergent interaction theory holds that causal properties arise from the complex interactions between those smaller parts, and that those properties cannot be reduced. For example – out of the millions of electrochemical interactions in our brains, consciousness emerges. Intentionality emerges, a force infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. In the same way, within the Bellingham community – developers and builders, environmentalists, civil servants –out of our individual skill-sets and expertise, something greater emerges. It is that greater, collective force that will shape our reality and the legacy we owe the generations that will follow us.