Guest Commentaries

Bellingham works to create a sustainable, equitable, thriving city

Resisting growth is not an option
January 23, 2022 at 12:15 p.m.

By SETH FLEETWOOD
Mayor of Bellingham

Ultimately, we save the world and ourselves, from ourselves, by making the future cities we need. Amidst all our human challenges and every form of harm, the correction of which ennobled life depends, a redeeming fix can be found in the work we do in cities.

I am a strong adherent of this view, and the work we do in Bellingham to create a sustainable, equitable and thriving city will define us. It is a view fiercely grounded in optimism. Even in the midst of so much that is bleak or distressing, it calls us to put forth unremitting effort toward plotting a course to something that resolves itself in a better way. As Mayor, I see this as a duty. 

Growing concentrations of people in cities has been the trend over the millennia. It is in cities that commitment to betterment finds full expression, limited only by our ability to cooperate, listen, understand, reach broad agreements, and act on them.

The current trend is for 90% of all people to live in cities by the end of this century. Our country’s entire legal framework permits people to reside in any place they choose. Growth management and laws against exclusionary zoning require that cities accommodate an ever-growing population.

Bellingham will grow

In our city of more than 90,000, many profess love for Bellingham but there are different views on how we maintain that love. 

For some, love for Bellingham is expressed through steadfast efforts to not let it change, for it to remain the same. This is a nostalgic view and one to which I am sympathetic. Today’s Bellingham is much different than when I was growing up here. 

However, the position I have settled on is to embrace change, provided it nurtures health and progress and stops harm. Resistance to growth and change is not an option. I can support a growing, changing city provided it be resilient, equitable and sustainable; in other words, the future city we need. We retain enormous control to shape our Bellingham of the future, and the steps we take now are consequential toward that end. 

Many significant efforts are underway that will see progress in 2022, all requiring us to engage and bring our best selves, not only as individuals but as a community that recognizes and respects our individual needs and beliefs but also that which we all have in common. 

Here are a few of many:

Racial justice

In our ongoing, and historically failed, effort to mature as a human species we find hope in the exhortation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to judge people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. This is an enlightened admonition, as it can apply not only to race, but to all the senseless ways in which humans unfairly judge and diminish. 

The murder of George Floyd galvanized a national movement for racial justice. In our community dedicated people have organized to form recommendations on creating a racial equity commission that will engage in identifying and dismantling structures and systems that lead to racial inequity. It is exciting and hopeful work and Bellingham is fully engaged. It is the difficult work that, if done in every American community, would lead to systemic change, healing, and at long last, to a true multi-racial democracy.

The environment

We continue our dedication to building an environmental infrastructure. We have invested tens of millions of dollars to acquire, develop and maintain greenways. Our future growth requires our steadfast commitment, reflected in policies and codes, that our built environment will include natural amenities as necessary elements in everything we do. 

We insist that our future urban environment be alive with flora; green, abundant and teeming with life. We envision that, as density continues, a robust network of interconnected trails and parks will create an urban tapestry of green public spaces for everyone to use and enjoy. Dedicated people have successfully worked tirelessly in this effort and as we grow this work will continue in earnest.

Affordable housing

We must implement creative ways to deliver housing affordability. The price of homes has now become unaffordable for more than half the people who live and work here. High demand and low supply, coupled with the in-migration of comparatively wealthy people, ensures competition and outbidding to the detriment of affordability. We wholly reject becoming a community only for the affluent. All our goals and values are to build a variety of housing types that are affordable to us all. We are dedicated to addressing this critical challenge.

We continue our bold actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase resilience to climate change impacts and serve vulnerable populations. We are fortunate to live in a community where the majority of our residents understand, as do virtually all climate scientists, that human-caused greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere and dangerously warm the planet.

Renewable energy 

We are doing what the Paris Agreement calls on every government in the world to do: converting to renewable energy. We take this work seriously and are committed to a just transition, a fair and sustainable shift to a low-carbon economy. We are committed to being a model community in this regard and showing the way.

These priorities are only a sample of the vital work before us, and they share a common thread: they only happen when well-meaning people come together in civility and respect, to listen, understand, debate, share and ultimately agree on a course to pursue.

The people of Bellingham have committed to goals and actions that reflect an inspired and humane path into our future, and every day we continue the important work of giving life to those values. It is an exciting time as we create a sustainable, equitable and thriving city.


Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood can be reached at mayorsoffice@cob.org or 360-778-8100. Have your own guest commentary to share? Contact Executive Editor Ron Judd at ronjudd@cascadiadaily.com.
Have a news tip? Email newstips@cascadiadaily.com or Call/Text 360-922-3092

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