12-2018 November/December President's Message

November/December President's Message - From Rick

By Rick Sepler, AICP
Veterans of Public Service

Emerald Corridor University Collaboratory. The City of Bellingham and Western Washington University (WWU) are part of a group of cities and their resident universities[1] that are taking a closer look at how to better leverage academic resources to tackle pressing urban issues. Sponsored by the Bullitt Foundation, small planning grants have been awarded to university-based institutes. These institutes engaged in interdisciplinary applied for research and scholarship with community partners within the ‘Emerald Corridor’ (Portland, OR to Vancouver, BC). These grants enabled the development of a team of sustainability staff and faculty from four key universities with their city partners within the Corridor, known as the Emerald Corridor University Collaboratory. The Collaboratory is engaging in a two-year, cross-university and cross-city project focused on advancing long-term city-university research engagements that accelerate progress on city livability challenges.

One aspect that the City of Bellingham/WWU group has focused on is identifying emerging issues that are on the cusp of becoming more of community concern. These issues are those that have a high likelihood to become “center stage” for Bellingham in the next 5-10 years but are not currently “ready for primetime.”

To identify these issues, senior city staff participated in a workshop facilitated by WWU staff. This workshop was a relatively rare opportunity for municipal staff to step outside of day-to-day work to imagine the Bellingham that staff (thinking in the dual role of public servant and resident) would like to see in the future. This was an opportunity to think big, beyond what one thinks is currently possible. Then, working backward the group identified some short and long-term projects that would help move toward the vision.

As practitioners, we often find ourselves caught up in responding to the many individual (and incremental) issues that arise on a seemingly daily basis.  Finding time to look ahead often feels like a luxury, but it is an essential aspect of our profession.  Developing alliances with our universities might allow planners to match focused visioning with the thoughtful follow-up research necessary to craft actionable strategies and techniques. An exciting prospect and a wonderful opportunity!

Planning for Unsheltered Encampments. As you no doubt know, jurisdictions across Washington State are facing an unprecedented increase in the number of unsheltered individuals and families. While continuing efforts focus on the development of long-term housing, little effort has been spent on developing standards and best management practices for communities to effectively regulate temporary encampments (in existing buildings, tents or tiny homes) and safe parking areas.

Although many Washington jurisdictions have adopted interim or permanent rules for temporary homeless encampments, most likely with the help of another jurisdiction’s rules, the effectiveness of these regulations is not clear, nor have best practices been established.

Although the need for temporary encampments is significant, they have frequently been subject to appeal by community members and business owners. Issues raised in these appeals are often related to public safety, with a significant emphasis on limiting the number of encampment residents as a means to lessen perceived impacts. However, a review adopted regulations does not indicate that there is a clear relationship between size and potential impacts. In adopting regulations, discussions often default to “that sounds too big” and an almost arbitrary reduction in the number of people proposed to be located at a site.

The real issue seems to be the behaviors near the shelter and not the behavior of the residents who have been admitted to the encampments themselves. As such, standards other than resident caps need to be identified that work for the site and neighboring community. These could include ample space on the subject site and in the encampment itself for queuing and gathering, on-site supervision 24/7, a code of conduct and other such measures.

APA-Washington believes the time is right to provide resources to planners on this issue. The board unanimously supported the development of a one-day workshop to be held in the Spring of 2019. In preparation for the workshop, students from WWU will be doing research this Winter Quarter to identify standards that have been successfully applied to address encampment-related issues.  Their work will culminate in the development of case studies that will serve as a starting point for discussion at the forthcoming workshop. Stay tuned for details on the date of the workshop!

Fall Planning Conference.  The City of Tacoma has been selected as the site for our next Planning Conference in the Fall of 2019.  We are excited to be holding our conference in the City of Destiny! More information and a Call for Sessions shortly.

Volunteers Needed!  We have several positions open on our continuing committees and seek APA-WA members who have an interest in serving.  If you have not yet served on one of our committees, it is a great opportunity to work with other planners and contribute to both your profession and community.

APA-Washington currently is seeking volunteers for the following:

  • Scholarship Committee – specifically to work on a scholarship auction for the Fall Conference.
  • Sustainable Sponsorship Ad-hoc Committee – to work on developing a long-term sponsorship program for the Chapter.
  • Communication Committee
  • Membership Committee
  • Professional Development Officer
  • Legislative Committee

Please feel free to contact me directly by e-mail ([email protected]) if you have an interest in any of the above roles.


[1] The other town/gown participants are: University of Washington and Seattle, Portland State University and Portland and the University of British Columbia and Vancouver.

Return to the November/December issue of The Washington Planner