January 14, 2002
Guest Editorial: Planning to improve quality of life
by Cheryl Ferrier, president, Washington Assn. of Realtors
Quality of life unsurpassed anywhere is one reason people move to Washington state - and move they have. Since 1990, more than a million people have come to the Evergreen State, bringing new talent and greater diversity to our neighborhoods and communities. But an expanding population also has put more cars on the road, more kids in school, and more people in the market for a place to live.
That's why the Washington Association of Realtors is launching a campaign to improve the public policy process that will shape the growth of our neighborhoods, cities, and countryside. The goal of the Quality of Life Project is improving our quality of life and building better communities.
The Washington Legislature predicted the crunch on state roads, schools, housing, and other mainstays of our communities. In 1990 lawmakers created the Growth Management Act (GMA) to prevent uncoordinated growth from damaging our environment, slowing economic development, and eroding our quality of life. The GMA requires every community in the state to prepare to grow wisely. Communities must identify and protect critical areas and natural resource lands. They also have to designate areas where growth will occur, and prepare and implement growth plans by making capital investments and writing new regulations when necessary. Communities must review their growth plans no later than September 1, 2002 - less than one year away.
It's an ambitious undertaking. But if we don't properly plan for growth, we jeopardize housing opportunities, our environment, and economic vitality. Washington must protect the investment families have made in homes and the investment business has made in buildings and land. At the same time, we can and must offer a variety of affordable housing choices. We can and must generate more family-wage jobs. Washington citizens want a vibrant business environment, good schools and safe neighborhoods, ample green space, and efficient transportation systems.
The Quality of Life Project outlines three basic principles that should guide growth planning in Washington state:
1. Ensure Economic Vitality: Quality of life starts with a good job. The single biggest key to our quality of life is a strong economy that creates new jobs, expands the tax base, promotes economic diversity, and revitalizes communities.
2. Provide Housing Opportunities: Quality of life means having a roof over your head. Housing choice - design, cost, and location - is critical to increasing home ownership.
3. Preserve Our Environment: Quality of life means clean air and water. We recognize the importance of parks, open space, and the environment to our quality of life.
The Quality of Life Project is already conducting research on growth options, and surveying citizens to find out how they would like to see their communities grow. We started with surveys and focus groups to find out what Washington residents think about how our state should grow. Public Opinion Strategies, a nationally respected research firm, conducted a 100-question survey of 800 Washington residents to illuminate attitudes about growth.
Here are some of the things the public said:
€ "Traffic," not "growth" is the major concern for Washington voters. Almost three-quarters of voters are upset about traffic.
€ Safe neighborhoods and good schools are key attributes residents seek in good communities.
€ Housing costs are too high. More than 90% of voters approve of increased opportunities for first-time homebuyers.
€ "Green" attributes are among the top qualities that attract people to the Northwest. When developing a plan for growth and housing opportunities, people want parks, trees, sidewalks, and shared open space.
€ 76% agreed that local governments should compensate property owners when government regulations decrease the value of their property.
The Quality of Life Project will provide public policymakers with the research and public preferences they need to make smart decisions about Washington's future.
Why do realtors care about Washington's strategies to grow? Few have had a closer look at the effects of the population crunch than Realtors whose business is helping people find homes and communities. We talk everyday with people who hope to build a life for themselves and their children in Washington state. We understand what makes communities - not just homes - attractive and desirable. People want safe streets and strong schools, jobs that pay well, and roads that take them where they need to go without delay.
The bottom line? We cannot afford to be complacent about our future. And GMA will be instrumental in determining what that future looks like. The Quality of Life Project seeks to improve the process citizens and policymakers will follow to build a better Washington. By acting and thinking ahead of the population crunch that is sure to come, we can enhance housing opportunities and preserve our environment. At the same time we can protect the investment families and business have made in homes and land and ensure economic vitality. We can improve the quality of life for all Washington residents.
Cheryl Ferrier is the president of the Washington Assn. of Realtors For more information about the Quality of Life Project, go to www.warealtor.com. Readers may contact the Washington Assn. of Realtors at (800) 562-6024, or PO Box 719, Olympia, WA 98507-0719.