Redesigning Vashon for the next century

We must think outside the box like we have never done before.

  • Wednesday, January 16, 2019 12:25pm
  • Opinion
Greg Wessel (Courtesy Photo).

Greg Wessel (Courtesy Photo).

On Thanksgiving Day, The Beachcomber published an op-ed of mine that proposed we engage the creative people at The Storefront Studio and elsewhere to help us redesign Vashon from the waterline up, using current environmental standards, so that we could begin to see how much change we need to accomplish in order to address climate change.

I called for readers to let me know if they wanted to be part of this project, and I got responses from 16 people, including some you probably know. We are having our first meeting at the park district office (next to the library) at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31.

Because of the good response, The Beachcomber offered me this space to expand on my vision for this effort. Note that this is only my vision, and it will be improved greatly by the input of others. I am not directing this effort; I am simply encouraging it.

Last week’s Beachcomber included an article by Joe Yarkin that talked about an energy bill and the “Green New Deal” that Democrats are likely to support in 2019. These are important initiatives that deserve our support, but no matter what is done by the electeds, the people on the ground are where the rubber meets the road. Those of us at our level must understand and accept these progressive initiatives or we will regress further.

There are also a lot of us who believe that we are limited in our personal actions by the way things are set up now, and we feel helpless to act. Our current land use patterns, many technologies and our economic system had their origins in the 18th and 19th centuries. For example, consider the humble utility pole. These date from the mid-1800s, when telegraph lines made the Pony Express obsolete. Our property boundaries and road patterns date from the same time period, long before any knowledge of or concern for environmental impacts or critical areas. If we can find ways to changes things as basic as these, then we can empower everyday citizens to be agents of tremendous change.

My idea of how this will work runs something like this: First, we establish some broad guidelines (full-cost accounting for environmental impacts, relying on current zoning code restrictions, etc.) to drive the redesign. Second, we imagine stripping the existing infrastructure and property boundaries off the island and document the state of the island as it would have been without people. Third, we design a modern community as if we were starting over from scratch, accounting for food production, energy, carbon sequestration and environmental preservation. We might have island-wide forest management, and there might even be management of the deer population.

The fourth step will be the most challenging: We will compare our vision of a 21st-century Vashon to our existing 19th-century Vashon and assess what could be changed that might get us closer to a sustainable future. We’ll have to brainstorm a lot in this part of the project and try to determine which actions might or might not garner public support. The fifth and final step might be to make a formal proposal of progressive steps we can take to move us closer to true sustainability.

I see two challenges that will face each of us in this process. First, we must recognize that our personal understandings of “nature” are far from those of our ancestors or even our parents. With each succeeding generation, nature has been degraded a bit more, such that what we now consider “natural” is nothing like it was a hundred years ago. This is an example of “shifting baseline syndrome,” and it makes it difficult for us to appreciate the significance of our impact.

The second challenge is that we must think outside the box like we have never done before. We must be open to radical proposals that would never have been necessary had we not continued acting like it was the year 1890. That’s a bit harsh because a lot of us have advanced to 1960, but I think you get the idea. We need to plan for 2100 and beyond, not 2000.

If you are interested in thinking outside the box, please join us from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31 at the Vashon Park District office. If you email me at, I’ll add you to the mailing list for future meetings.

With your help we can create a Vashon for the 21st century. Your grandchildren will thank you.

— Greg Wessel

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