Change? Yes, but what kind?

In the past four years I’ve attended all the meetings for the Winslow Tomorrow visioning process, participated in the charrette and attended many city presentations on the possible designs that would grow from the results of the visioning process. Lately I’ve attended many council meetings, listening to why nothing can be done to apply any of the results of this process. Partially this is due to the economic climate and partially it’s the result of the gloom-and-doomers who, without attending any meetings or reviewing the possible designs that resulted from the process, have concluded that the whole thing was an attempt to “pull the wool over the public’s eyes” to allow large-scale development of Winslow Way.

Never mind that the infrastructure is failing and needs replacement, that the water flow isn’t sufficient to adequately fight downtown fires, that the property owners have in fact agreed to contribute to an LID – naysayers ignore those facts and repeat themselves endlessly. Some folks just don’t like change and will say or do anything to avoid it, including disdsemination of misinformation.

Change will come to Winslow Way, as one can see in some of the historical Winslow/contemporary Winslow pictures provided by the Historical Society. The citizens and the city can manage change, or we can let it manage us. If just one sinkhole appeared on Winslow Way, it would require much more redevelopment than would occur in the next two decades after a street repair. The city has a legal responsibility as well as a moral responsibility to the Downtown Core. A declining downtown will start a domino chain reaction: a retail downturn will mean a negative impact on our economy, loss of jobs, loss of income, maybe even increased crime, just to name a few of the consequences for not protecting our downtown.

The city can either perform the responsibilities of a city government and take care of the health and safety of its citizens by repairing the failing infrastructure, or it can let downtown die a slow death. How? By letting the sidewalks crumble, allowing garbage cans to overflow on weekends (while Bainbridge Disposal generously removes the garbage during the week for free), cancelling the street-side baskets of flowers so the main street looks moribund, permitting a water system that is inadequate for fighting fires downtown to continue to exist, consistently neglecting to fulfill any promises to the citizenry (the Porta-Potties are still with us), thereby relinquishing any crumbs of credibility that might remain after decades of non-action. What a way to present ourselves to residents and visitors. Sure hope the Wall Street Journal doesn’t get wind of us again.

Some council members have said that home repairs wouldn’t happen if the money wasn’t in hand. I submit that if one’s waterpipes or sewer were leaking, the homeowner would borrow the funds to make repairs, to keep the value of the property intact. Downtown is the heart of the island and any failure to the infrastructure is a threat to its viability. The character of the island is its people and what we do here, not the height of the buildings or “quaint” broken sidewalks or “funky” telephone poles... seems like the effort is going toward preserving buildings to maintain our “character.” How about noticing that our “character” is how people interact in a public space where we all meet, greet, shop and eat, not in the surrounding buildings. And if our retail core withers away due to inaction, we’ve lost that character forever.

A downtown exists in four stages — growing, reinventing, decaying, and dying. Please take control of our downtown and reinvent it. Delaying these needed repairs will increase the cost to perform the repairs later, and possibly expose the city to potential lawsuits for any consequences of this inadequate infrastructure. This is a question of making a good choice now for the whole island. Please take a stand and commit to a timeline for these repairs!

Carolyn E. Hart is a 28-year resident of Bainbridge Island who lives in the Crystal Springs area. She currently works with a large publicly traded company with a small facility on the island.

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