Is island too afraid of change?Architect Parker says Bainbridge should recognize realities of growth.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 6:49 PM
"Architect Sean Parker grew up on Bainbridge Island.But he's not always sure that Bainbridge Island has grown up. In some respects, he thinks the island is frozen in the past.We think of ourselves as a little village in the woods, he said. The reality is we're not. We're right next to one of the biggest cities in the country, and we're becoming an urban place.The 35-year-old Parker still spends most of his professional time designing single-family homes. His special interest, though, is in affordable housing and city planning, which he brings to his role as the newest member of the Planning Commission.Parker applauds the Comprehensive Plan goals of directing half of island growth into Winslow. But he thinks we are bungling the development of Winslow by being too afraid of change.He cites traffic as an example, noting that several projects in Winslow have been spiked by concerns about possible traffic increases. But he thinks that concern is misdirected.If you look at the spots people love, you will find that they are horribly congested, he said, citing the Pike Place Market in Seattle or cities like San Francisco. People can hardly move around, but they work, he said.Another concept that gets an unfairly bad rap, according to Parker, is density.Density is not the problem. Density is our friend, he said. We either pay for things we want, like public spaces and trails, or somebody else does. The value of density is that it does these things for you.What Parker would like to see in Winslow are projects that concentrate the housing units, then use the leftover space saved for public amenities like trails. We need to think in ways that allow maximum flexibility and creativity in the planning process, Parker said. Right now, we tend to use a cookie-cutter approach that makes the planning process easier, but we're permanently losing opportunities.Parker says that while he personally likes urban spaces, he does not want to see all of Bainbridge Island turned into a city-scape. His concept is the same as the Comprehensive Plan -- make Winslow a city, but keep the rest of the island fairly rural.There's nothing wrong with our downtown being an urban area, he said. The more bodies we can get living down here the better, because it makes a more vibrant urban space.Parker is almost purely home-grown, moving to Bainbridge when he was a toddler.He went through the school system here, then took an architectural degree at the University of Washington.His first job was with a large Seattle firm, where he concentrated on affordable housing and urban-infill projects.I went to a lot of angry community meetings, he said. But when people actually saw the affordable-housing projects, they loved it.He opened his practice on Bainbridge in 1996, and worked out of his home for a while before moving into his present office on lower Madison Avenue.Of his private work, Parker says, I'm kind of a big pencil. I try to be as ego-less as possible and do what the client wants to do.The process is interactive, though.I'll tell them if they're doing something that I think is really dumb, and we'll work through it, he said. I see myself as an educator.Parker's work is on public display in the remodel of Eagle Harbor Books, in the liquor-store building and adjacent office building on Hildebrand Lane, and, most recently, in the redesigned facade of the Marge Williams Center.He has two affordable housing projects in what he calls the concept stage. And he has signed on to work with Bill Isley, Wini Jones and the team trying to pull together the Town Center project -- the still-under-discussion plan for a parking structure with affordable housing for the area between City Hall and the Farmers' Market site and the businesses on Winslow Way.Parker says that another obstacle to good urban planning stems from our comfortable small-town notion of wanting everybody to be happy.We need to be able to disagree with people even when we know we'll run into them at the T&C the next day. And that's a big leap for a small town.What Parker wants ultimately is for the island to become comfortable with the notion of Winslow as an urban place.After living here for 30-plus years, I feel justified in saying to the island, 'grow up,' he said. I want to see a mix of people, income levels and ethnic types that give the variety that makes a place interesting. "