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Give Winslow more people, consultant says

Downtown Winslow could easily absorb an additional 10,000 residents without changing its character, said one of North America’s leading landscape architects at an event Tuesday sponsored by Winslow Tormorrow.

“It may be controversial to say this, but your downtown is a natural for density,” said Patrick Condon, the University of British Columbia’s director of landscape architecture. “With 10,000 more people, your downtown wouldn’t look that much different than it looks now.”

Condon was the driving force behind the Headwaters Sustainable Development Demon­stration Project, a 15,000-person community in Surrey, B.C. The New England native served as the community development director for the city of Westfield, Mass., and regularly lectures in many North American universities.

After touring Bainbridge Island, Condon recommended a substantial boost in downtown density while stressing that the small-scale character of Winslow Way could remain with proper planning.

“What would disappear would be the surface parking lots, because if you add all kinds of density, you’ll have enough money coming downtown for underground parking,” he said.

Condon said substantial growth on Bainbridge Island is inevitable, and the community should take an assertive approach toward planning.

“I’ve heard a broad range of population projections since I’ve been here, and if I was you, that would make me scared,” he said. “A doubling of population in your lifetimes would really make this a very different place.

“It may be better or maybe worse, and most of our experience in North America is that it’s worse.”

But it doesn’t have to be, he said. Case in point: his hometown of Vancouver, B.C.

“In Vancouver, since I’ve been there, the population’s grown from 1.5 million to 2 million,” he said. “And it’s become better. The natural systems have improved, more people take the bus and it’s become more diverse.”

Condon asserted that a boost in Winslow’s density could make the island a more affordable place to live for many wage-earners and young middle-income workers.

“Its clear that the 22 to 38 (age) demographic is not finding a place to live easily in your community,” he said. “These are your teachers, nurses, firemen, police. That constitutes a problem worthy of attention.”

Smaller dwellings downtown could be cheaper and fit the needs of single people and young families.

“They’re not always the ones looking for the five-room ranch on a one-acre lot, they’re just looking for a nice place to live that they can afford,” he said.

Increased density would also make small, independent businesses more economically viable, he said, estimating that about 25 people are required per acre to allow “mom and pop” stores to survive.

Density would also make roads safer for pedestrians and drivers, Condon said. With services within easy walking distances from dwellings, residents would rely less on cars and more on their feet. Condon pointed to the low-density cities of Dallas, Phoenix and Atlanta that have substantially higher pedestrian and driver deaths than high-density cities, such as San Francisco and New York.

Condon also said highway gridlock is in store unless the island increases connections between roads.

“(Traffic congestion) really matters to your community,” he said. “In your lifetime you’ll have serious congestion at some of these funny little intersections in the upper part of the island if you don’t get a handle on this.

You’ll have six lanes and have to wait three minutes for all the lights to go.”

An advocate of sustainable design, Condon commended Winslow Tomorrow goals of developments that are “ecological friendly, affordable (and) economically appropriate – the three legs of sustainability.”

He said ecological design should also be inexpensive to offset land values and tax expense.

“I like it when design is low-impact and cheap,” he said, “because I like it when my sons and daughters can afford to live in the communities I’m designing.”

Condon’s Winslow Tomorrow presentation will air on Bainbridge Island Broadcasting at 11 a.m. today and noon Feb. 16.

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