Please, don't 'sell' the place we call home

By Mik Kuhlman

For The Beachcomber

I don’t usually get involved in Island politics. As a theater artist, I have at least seven jobs I am juggling to stay afloat, and that usually means not so much time or money. But I love this Island and especially the people who live here.

So when I received an email regarding Blonde Ambition and the Vashon Chamber of Commerce announcing plans to promote tourism on the Island, I took notice.

It was a small sentence that said we now had 62 bed and breakfasts and vacation rentals that really caught my attention. I am a renter. Recently, I had to reach out to everyone, because it was very difficult to find housing within my budget range for a single dweller.

Where are the funky beach cabins or tucked-away cottages? They’re gone. And because the economy has tanked and people are trying to get creative to solve their financial needs, they are either charging overpriced market rates or they are turning them into B&Bs so they have only the occasional renter and not really a neighbor. And although I understand that way of thinking, I want to encourage us to think differently here. We are neighbors.

Vashon Island is not a pure tourist destination and I hope it never is. Those people that we see cramming into town on Saturday morning are not tourists, they’re visitors. They are cousins and grandparents and friends of your neighbors.

And these days, too many people who “discover” Vashon don’t think of it as a place to visit and leave, they think, “How cheap, how charming, let’s buy a house and visit it once or twice a year.”

The welcome sign upon arrival on this Island says it all. We have so many houses that sit empty year round. I don’t want Vashon to turn into the San Juans with ferry reservations, businesses built simply for tourism and locals struggling to exist without them.

I want the beautiful amazing children who are raised on this Island to be able to stay. I want artists such as myself, to be able to remain in our homes. If we start “selling” our uniqueness to the target group, which Blonde Ambition identified as a female with $75,000 of disposable income, I fear further displacement of our youth and artists. And that, my friends, will strip and even further gentrify this community.

I understand the chamber needs to generate income to keep businesses alive, but I encourage them to reach inside the community, not to strangers outside.

There’s plenty of money right here and even more, the loyalty and friendship of neighbors. Let us know how we can help, but please, don’t “sell” Vashon. Let’s keep planning, and remember, the sustainability of our Island is not just about commerce.

— Mik Kuhlman is a performing and teaching artist and Island resident.

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