I have been a huge fan and promoter of the City’s Parks Stewards program and, as a side effect of that enthusiasm, have lamented that Public Works seems to have no similar programming for its innumerable blight and invasive species-infested properties.
With that context, I watched with interest this Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting which briefed City Council on how $5 million (of $21 million total from the American Recovery Plan Act or ARPA) will go towards “Climate Adaptation and Resiliency.”
Predictably for our species, every penny of this tranche of cash appears to be devoted to a “People First” narrative: The entire fixation of these funds will go to retrofit buildings for human comfort and health to avoid the smoke and heat — air conditioning units and spiffy filter systems that will inflict greater energy usage, not less, while totally ignoring the natural environment in favor of the buildings and humans that have supplanted it.
As far as the $5 million goes, so far it is all about human “adaptation” and no long-term environmental “resiliency.”
I notice similar biases in the City’s Climate Action Task Force Plan and, even though it has been a while since I pawed through all 127 pages of that thing, I doubt that the piddling few paragraphs devoted to enhancing urban ecosystem functionality have been improved upon.
I think more street trees, pollinator gardens, community food gardens or food forests, bioswales and rain gardens, funding to improve the blight and despair of Public Works’ “surplus properties” and blackberry infested Right of Ways (ROW) that should have trails or habitat (or any of the above ecological amenities) installed on them, are getting woefully ignored here. Furthermore, the relentless fundraisers, volunteer work, or guerrilla efforts that citizens — or Neighborhood Associations — have to resort to nowadays in order to implement simple green infrastructure or climate resiliency tactics are feeling borderline abusive to me: Public agencies need to up their game and meet the crisis, as well as meeting the public demand, so that the burden of the effort isn’t on citizens shoulders.
I have limited confidence that the upcoming ROW reform dialogues are going to go anywhere — that’s my own bias based upon 20-30 years of being an environmental advocate and paying attention to how Bellingham works — and I’ll wager that the Bee City USA program or Urban Forest Plan, for improving pollinator habitat and tree canopy coverage, will likewise become little more than un-funded and decorative “shelf art” for City Hall’s collection of well-intentioned wastes of time.
So my questions are the following:
1) Do you foresee any prospect of using some ARPA funds for wildly popular efforts like the Parks Stewards program? For ROW improvements? For pollinator gardens or street trees or rain gardens, etc?
2) Do you foresee any prospect of Bellingham Public Works engaging with a more broad-ranging and holistic view of stewardship and resiliency tactics on the properties they control?
A lot of cities pumped their ARPA cash into investments in much-needed public open spaces, like plazas, community gardens, trails, etc., since this pandemic has proven how vital these outdoor amenities are to communities. I’ll leave you to do your own research on that and ponder, from my critical commentaries above, if Greenways or Parks funding is at all adequate — or even allowed — for the creative reimagining of public spaces (or for ecosystem functionality, ie: long-term “resiliency”) in the densely populated urban settings that define what we have left to work with here.
These amenities and programs are, in my view, absolutely “People First” initiatives no matter if they have the seemingly forbidden side-effect of planting a single damn tree, or not.
[The above article is the modification of a letter Alex McLean sent to various departments in Bellingham City Hall]