Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Waterfront Redevelopment: Are Circadian Rhythms To Blame?

Years ago, I can remember my little sister's seemingly annual insistence upon receiving a pony for Christmas.
That never happened while she was a child because it just wasn't in the cards.
Our family hadn't the means, the space, or the inclination to be owners of an animal that required such special care and feeding.

So, it was not until she grew up and obtained her own means and space, did her wish come true.
But then, how she enjoyed having that long dreamed of horse!
And, knowing her two young daughters shared her own childhood wish, she got them ponies too.

Essentially, she tripled her pleasure by being patient, and not only maintaining, but multiplying her goal.

Something like can also happen for those in Bellingham who feel they have been disappointed by what has, or has not, happened so far with waterfront redevelopment planning.
Things like this simply do not happen that quickly, and there will be other opportunities for concerned parties to significantly influence waterfront redevelopment and change it to another direction, either real or perceived.

Here, including the word 'perceived' is important because perceptions are not always what they seem, whether good or bad.
No one really knows with certainty exactly what will ultimately transpire and result on our waterfront.
But, everyone must share the vision of not letting this contaminated industrial fill area persist in its current state very far into the future.
That would simply be irresponsible, and there is no better word to describe it.

But, equally as irresponsible, is the continued insistence upon concepts that are clearly -or maybe not so clearly- out of balance with reality.
Here, the balance I'm referring to is the one between 3 competing -and also complimentary- goals; ECOLOGY, ECONOMICS and SOCIAL EQUITY.
These must inherently be in reasonable balance to have a chance of the project succeeding at all.
[Of course, if the desire is to STOP progress and PREVENT anything from being achieved, all bets are off on this point.]

A few examples:
• The idea of most of the waterfront area being used as a public park and recreation area, while advancing ECOLOGY and, to some extent, SOCIAL EQUITY, mainly ignores ECONOMICS. That won't work because the necessary work must be paid for as it proceeds.

• The idea of most of the waterfront to be built for commercial purposes may advance the ECONOMICS while short changing ECOLOGY and SOCIAL EQUITY. That's not OK because the public must be reasonably satisfied that access to water, views, housing, institutions and jobs will be abundantly provided.

• SOCIAL EQUITY is such an integral part of both ECONOMICS and ECOLOGY that it simply can't be considered alone, but as an essential part of the others - both of which are beneficial to people.

This 'three-legged stool of values is more than just a catch phrase; it is a real balance that is not always obvious to anyone or everyone.
Like Winston Churchill said years ago; 'The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end; there it is.'

Politics is inherently about competing ideas, priorities and funding, and often debates on these matters gets heated.
People resort to all sorts of strategies and tactics to get their way, including emotional appeals, threats, audacious demands, deception, and lies ranging from clever words-smithing to ridiculous hyperbole; had you noticed?
Warts and all, that's what our system allows.
Get used to it, but please don't buy into the idea that these are the only methods that can be effective.

For example, if folks don't like the idea of the Port being the ones responsible for acquiring the property, cleaning it up and then redeveloping it, just suggest a better idea -or at least a different one.
Then, work to make that happen!

If that might mean recruiting a private interest to carry out these tasks, then suggest it and then help sell the idea.

Or, it may have to do do with just getting new Commissioners elected, who could then hire a new Executive Director and/or sponsor a different study approach and redevelopment plan.

If the charters of Port Authorities need to be changed, that is a job for our State Legislature-and voters- to undertake.

Someone will have to initiate this process. Who's waiting for who to do what?

All of these things will take much more than childish wishful thinking to accomplish!
Of course, there are those who will always wait for others to get things done, then complain when the result doesn't meet their fancy.
Hey, our system also allows that.

The concept of 'public process' seems to get used, and abused, a lot these days.
But, no one can convince me that a sufficiency of 'public process' is a completely definable thing.
Different folks have different ideas of what constitutes a sufficiency, but there has been enormous effort expended on what is called 'public process' expended on the planning for our waterfront.
There is no debating that fact, as the veritable Harvard Bookshelf of studies has grown over the past 20-plus years.

But, different studies do happen at different times, and with different goals and concepts, not all of which are directly compatible or interchangeable.
That's OK, too, because over time the net effect of this string of studies has served to alert the public and officials to the possibilities on our waterfront.
Several studies were done when G-P was still operating along with other industries, which were still useful because they tried to look beyond G-P.
The one thing they all agreed upon was that a future waterfront redevelopment was desirable.
That is still true, despite the time that has passed.

But, the time element does influence people's feelings.
Some really liked earlier ideas that were more limited in concept and failed to anticipate the changes that have occurred.
That seems similar to a little girl wishing for a pony.

The main difficulty seems to be finding that 'sweet spot' in public opinion that carries the best chance of succeeding.
Because there seem to be almost as many opinions as there are people, this becomes a formidable task.
But, even a formidable task can be tackled effectively, as has been proven often, despite the difficulty.
And, there are some core values that have already been agreed, whether some disagree or not.

So, now it seems we're largely down to 'duking' it out over personal preferences, some of which are being fiercely clung to.
The circumstance of continual, petty bickering reminds me a little too much of that other Washington; you know the place where the Federal Government is headquartered, where political gamesmanship often seems more important than getting anything worthwhile accomplished.
Allowing Bellingham to degenerate into that status would be a real shame.

The concept of 'Circadian Rhythms' may be at play here, don't you think?
"Circadian' literally means something equivalent to an 'approximate period of time', most often about one day.
Each species of living things like plants, mammals, etc, seem to have its own inherent rhythms.
Did you know that certain flowers bloom and close only at certain times during the day, whether they are exposed to the sun or not?
Even individuals have slightly different Circadian Rhythms which influence their natural best sleeping times among other things.
Think about it.

If everyone does have a slightly different Circadian Rhythm, that means there are built-in differences in habits.
Over time, these differences are widened or lessened.
Of course, these time intervals can be vast, which would mask us perceiving any changes over a relatively short time.
And, since we are living in the 'now', are quite impatient and have strong preferences, we see things primarily from these perspectives.
So, maybe Circadian Rhythms have little or no relevance here.
But, maybe they do.

What else would explain all the diverse words and opinions flying around on something many of us may not be present to see finished, but which needs doing anyway?