On growth and change.

Nobody every wants to be the city equivalent of Blockbuster Video, a company too rigid and unwilling to adapt its business practices to a changing technological landscape. Netflix gave the initial punch to the gut when it began mailing out DVDs. Redbox came in and kicked the old video store chain while it was down. And then, when Netflix came in with its subscription-based streaming, it was game-set-match. Blockbuster tried to modify its business practices, but it was too little too late.

Change has to happen! We’re in a pro-growth phase and unless we’re willing to accept that, we will continue down a path of doing business as though we’re in the pre-growth era. And, while it may not spell the end of Pullman, it can dramatically alter the way we live our lives. No, we’re NOT going to become the next Washtucna. That’s too extreme. We actually can still keep our core values: small-town life, a sense of community, dedication to local business, etc.

Those core values are important, and it’s the reason I really want the mayor and city council to spearhead the city’s next vision and mission. This is part of the comprehensive plan. And with deference to our long-time city planner Pete Dickinson, who I like and feel is a good man, I have to say I don’t feel the vision and mission should be left to him. And definitely not a consultant! It should be our elected officials, with public input, with input from all department heads – including Pete – that craft a vision we can call get behind.  This is vital, because in this process, we identify what our core values are as a city.

For me, I don’t want Pullman to be run like Seattle. I don’t want large skyscrapers. That does not mean I like suburban sprawl. But we have to be reasonable about what that means. I feel like I have fundamental disagreements with one resident who often writes opinion pieces in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, and who equates subdivisions in Pullman as “suburbs.” Nope. Most of these are, mind you, less than two miles away from downtown, some even closer. Let’s look at it this way: if you’re living in Seattle, and are five miles from downtown, are you in the suburbs? Not even close! The idea that our best solution to everything is to take single-family homes away, and force everyone to live in high-rise apartment complexes downtown in order to minimize footprint and make public transportation easier, is ludicrous. If I wanted that, I would live in Seattle! Sometimes, I wonder if these folks that are so unhappy with small-town life wouldn’t be better off moving to Seattle, where apparently the grass is always greener (though not in the city… there is very little grass except for the occasional shared space).

So, how do we grow, and change, yet keep the same type of feel that drove us to Pullman in the first place? We have to be smart about it! That’s not exactly the same as “smart growth,” which Smart Growth America defines as “a way to build cities, towns, and neighborhoods that are economically prosperous, socially equitable, and environmentally sustainable.”

That, of course, is just one definition. In essence, it strives to have walkability, bikability, “complete streets,” mixed-use development, neighborhood schools, and transportation choices, among other things.

Obviously, specifics on how this is brought to pass can vary based on a number of variables. But the key, of course, is that it is a collective process that asks for community engagement in the planning process… throughout the whole life cycle. It means there is transparency in the process. It means residents are well informed of projects, have ample time to give input, review pertinent documents, etc.