Executive Director's Report
Your quarterly update from Futurewise Executive Director, Hilary Franz
Building Community, Protecting the Land
This spring we saw the birth of the first calves on our family farm in Roy since my grandfather passed away in 1998. My grandfather arrived in Pierce County in the late 1930s, and farmed over 300 acres of land from the early 1940s until his death in 1998. But these were the first calves born on the farm in almost 20 years since my grandfather sold the last head of cattle at the age of 82. For my children, who have spent much time on the farm, it is their first glimpse of the farm as a truly working farm.
Little has changed on the farm since my grandfather was alive. But the place around the farm changed significantly and the people who lived here changed with it. Across the road, two large housing developments have gone in. On two sides of the farm sit a number of large homes built on five and ten acre parcels that are no longer being farmed. And on the other side lies acres of forest and scotch broom that make up the military base of Fort Lewis. The farming community that once supported each other – that helped my grandfather build his barn and mend his fences -- has dwindled to just one neighboring farmer who still helps us hay our pasture.
Our family farm’s history is no different from many around the state or the county – the urbanization of our rural areas, the family farm’s decline as one generation passes on, and the loss of our connectedness to our neighbors. But in Pierce County, over the last few decades, the loss of farmland to fast growing suburban areas has been greater than any other county in the state. And yet, we still see opportunities ahead for Pierce County farming.
At the landscape level, Pierce County presents excellent climate and soil conditions for successful agriculture. For this reason, there is substantial demand for farmland in Pierce County at its agricultural price. An illustration of this demand is the backlog of new farmers seeking land for farming who cannot find it. As of 2011, there were 116 prospective farmers who wished to buy or lease farmland in Pierce County but who had not been able to find it available in the area at an affordable agricultural price.
Pierce County agriculture is also changing from an industrial, low intensity mass production wholesale market model to a more specialized, high intensity, direct market model – and with signs of early success. Pierce County is 26th of 39 counties in Washington in total land devoted to agriculture, but it is 16th in the value of its agricultural products sold. And the county produces much more dollar value per-acre than is produced elsewhere in the state. The average per acre dollar value of annual farm production in Pierce County is $1,638, nearly five times the statewide Washington average of $348 and nearly 9 times the statewide Oregon average of $180. It turns out that for all the advantages of farming in Eastern Washington, Pierce County’s significant advantage is nearby access to urban markets.
Pierce County’s rapidly growing urban areas can be both friend and foe. The number of urban consumers who are buying food from local farmers is growing. This local food movement is helping to build demand for small farms in Pierce County. The key to ensuring a healthy sustainable long-term relationship in Pierce County between the urban areas and farming is having urban growth occur within its urban boundaries and yet close enough to a plentiful local food source.
Achieving this balance requires effective zoning laws that prevent urban sprawl and fragmentation of agricultural lands. Unfortunately, there has been too much flexibility in the zoning laws, leading to ongoing fragmentation of the local agricultural land base and an increase in the price of farmland above its agricultural value. The result is a shortage of affordable farmland, which overtime results in further fragmentation of existing farmland, the loss of local food system processing, and persistent conflicts between urban and farm users.
That’s why Futurewise has been working with a number of key partners like American Farmland Trust, PCC Farmland Trust, Tahoma Audubon and Friends of Pierce County to stop more incremental loss of prime farmland in the Puyallup Valley. Last month our efforts paid off and we successfully protected key farmland on the edge of the Valley from encroaching subdivisions and urbanization. Now our coalition is working to develop a long-term solution, which will better protect farmlands around the urban fringe and hopefully build an even stronger community.
Agriculture for all of my life has been on the demise. Yet, there is hope for the future of farming. In 2010, the USDA reported that the number of farms in America had actually increased for the first time in a century and a half. The most defining American demographic trend – the shift that had taken us from a nation of 50 percent farmers to less than 1 percent – had bottomed out and reversed. Farms are on the increase –small farms, mostly growing food for their neighbors and their local community.
This change is good in so many ways -- from producing fresher food with less energy, to easier on the land and building connections again in the community. You can even see the possibility of farming helping the community deal with the flood, the drought, the heat, and other climate changes that we are likely to see in the coming years. But maybe more importantly, you can see this farming building community. Local farms on the urban fringe empower consumers to become active supporters of their communities. Every day eaters have the opportunity to support small-scale farmers, invest in their communities, stimulate their local economy and keep agricultural land in sustainable production.
The recent economic crisis has reminded us of how much we need each other. For many of us, it was the first sign that the world is likely to grow a little tougher, with harsher weather, rising prices, less profits, and a smaller safety net. Given we cannot live without food, local food and local farming is what we will likely need most. And if we can get the balance right, what we will gain is the critical insight about farming – that everything is connected.
Equitable Transit-Rich Neighborhoods-- An Opportunity to get it Right
Last month, as I addressed our Transportation for Washington Equity Caucus in the Seattle City Hall, I found myself glancing over a photo gallery on the wall between breaks. The black and white images provided an everyday view into the world of homelessness and poverty in Washington, revealing a clear sense of fate, class, limited options, and simple survival.
I was struck by one photograph of a family of six, with three toddlers and a tiny infant, sitting in a car with too few spaces for car seats and seatbelts. It is a picture of the father filling his gas tank with his four children in the back seat. The description of the photograph reveals that the family spends almost as much on gas each month as they do on food for the family.
This image shows the clear intersect between equity, social justice, planning and policy, transportation, and housing. This image could have been taken anytime between the 50s to present day. The photo is a reminder of how past community and transportation planning exercises have not lived up to expectations and how this time around we truly need to get it right if we are going to have a better future than the present.
As we prepare for the increased population that will be coming to our state in the next 20 years, we need to be focused not only on the environmental issues of protecting our most sensitive landscapes and best farmlands from sprawl but also on the social justice issues of ensuring vibrant, healthy communities for all. This means that we have to face head on and up front the impacts to our most vulnerable which can result from creating more compact, connected communities.
With a growing demand by people of all incomes —especially middle and upper ones— to live in compact communities near transit, even fewer communities remain affordable to people with low incomes. The increased demand to live in these communities means higher land and home prices. Long-standing members of these communities are caught between two pressures: moving further away from the transit corridors where they can afford or fighting to be able to stay. While moving to the suburbs may mean more affordable house prices, unfortunately it means less reliable public transportation for access to jobs, health care, education and other essential services. People who never needed a car find themselves laden with the cost of gas, maintenance, and insurance. And the result on the environment means at best we are just swapping who is riding transit and at worst we are converting long-standing transit riders to car dependency while gaining few new transit riders.
A number of studies in the last five years, including a recent one by our local partner, Puget Sound SAGE, reveal the connection between gentrification and transit oriented communities. In these different studies, researchers looked at Census data for the area surrounding transit stations for a number of variables, including population growth, racial and ethnic composition, housing costs, household income, auto ownership, and use of public transportation for commuting. One study out of Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy looked at 42 transit stations around the country and found the following after a new transit station opened:
• The neighborhood surrounding a new transit station saw an influx of higher income residents and new higher-priced housing -- two general indicators of gentrification.
• Rents and housing values increase, making it more expensive for low- to moderate-income households to stay in the neighborhood, which can lead to displacement.
• Public transportation use actually decreased in many neighborhoods, and auto ownership increased, especially among households owning two or more cars.
• Light rail has the strongest effect on the market of the surrounding neighborhood, leading to significant increases in housing values and rates of auto ownership.
Puget Sound SAGE’s report Transit Oriented Development that’s Healthy, Green & Just: Ensuring Transit Investment in Seattle’s Rainier Valley Builds Communities Where All Families Thrive reveals similar trends are occurring or likely to occur in Seattle’s Rainier Valley as a result of the new light rail line.
Given these realities and given the challenges of creating truly equitable communities, some would say we are faced with a “Hobson’s Choice”: invest in transit and accept the loss of neighborhood diversity as collateral damage, or avoid transit expansion projects serving diverse, low-income neighborhoods and leave those residents with poor public transportation. I choose to believe that our choices are not limited, only our imagination and willingness to do better. We need to be more creative and imaginative, using innovative planning and policy tools, strategic partnerships, and leveraged financing. Most importantly, we need to be committed to equitable communities as much as we are to transit-oriented communities.
There is fertile ground for nurturing a new model for how we in Washington State will manage the expected increased population growth that turns our cities into truly great communities – walkable, mixed-income neighborhoods with affordable homes near transit, jobs, and services. We’re currently involved with the implementation of the Puget Sound Regional Council’s (PSRC) $5 million HUD/EPA grant to plan transit-oriented communities from Tacoma to Redmond to Everett. As part of this work, a broad coalition of affordable housing, social justice, environmental, and labor organizations are working together with city officials to bring forward planning and policy solutions that create wins for equity, the environment and the economy. By working together, we are expanding our capacity and resource base, allowing us to be more proactive and effective in putting mechanisms in place that ensure affordable housing and community services and prevent displacement of existing residents in our new transit centers.
As we work towards creating more transit-oriented communities, we need to keep in the forefront of our mind that this issue is not just about transportation or the environment. We need to remind ourselves repeatedly that for transit-oriented communities, the economic, environmental and social justice issues are deeply entangled and if we do not address the social justice issues we will not have succeeded in the transportation, economic, and environmental issues. It is about holistic planning. It is about challenging ourselves to truly create healthy communities not just for ourselves but for all of our neighbors.
Remembering the faces in the photographs, it is time we say that we cannot afford to keep getting this experiment wrong.
Hilary's report, and many other articles from the Futurewise staff, can be viewed in the Spring 2012 Newsletter
 The increased transportation costs can amount to an average of 29% of income for low-income families, leaving little left for healthy food, education, and savings.
 Maintaining Diversity In America’s Transit-Rich Neighborhoods: Tools for Equitable Neighborhood Change, Northeastern University, Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, October 2010.
 At the same time, neighborhoods built on light rail lines tend to be poorer at baseline compared to heavy and commuter rail neighborhoods, which could explain the larger effect.
 Planning and policy strategies include community benefits agreements, transit corridor planning activities, zoning overlays. Housing market strategies Transit-oriented development acquisition funds, housing trust funds, tax increment financing, and inclusionary zoning policies. Transportation management strategies include car sharing, reduced parking requirements, and unbundling of the price of parking from rent.
New Year’s Resolutions
It is the beginning of the year again – the time most of us consider our new year’s resolutions and how we can change long-standing patterns to improve our lives --from drinking less coffee to running a marathon to starting a new career. There is something strangely compelling about the idea that once a year at a certain time, we all quietly look at ourselves, reflect on our dreams, and choose to end the year in a better place than we started.
What if this year our resolutions were larger than ourselves? What if this year we looked bigger, not just at change in our personal lives, but instead at how our world should work and how we can be part of making it happen?
Last year we witnessed small and large scale demands for change. From the quiet streets of foreclosed neighborhoods to the loud streets of Occupy Wall Street, around the world and in each of our communities we heard people calling for a change in how our economy works. It was a call for a New Economic Resolution.
2012 needs to be about answering that call. It needs to be about building a new economy that works for all of us – rich and poor, rural and urban. It needs to be about building a new economy focused on innovation, infrastructure and sustainability. And it needs to be something we can all work on together.
Unfortunately, what we are witnessing in Olympia so far this year is a focus on the failed premise that economic recovery will come from deferring innovation and gutting our environmental protections. It's a failed premise that weakening our Growth Management Act and our State Environmental Policy Act will create jobs. It’s a failed premise that delaying local requirements to address Puget Sound’s top water pollutant – toxic runoff - is necessary to achieve either short or long term economic recovery.
Instead, the reverse is true. Investments in our failing stormwater system yield economic benefits from the retrofit jobs to the cost savings from reduced property damage and lower energy costs. Smart land use planning creates more desirable communities to live and work – with open space, reduced pollution, safer roads and reduced traffic, attracting talented workers and innovative employers to grow our economy. This in addition to getting a higher return on public investment so that we get maximum, efficient use of existing infrastructure.
Across the country and in our own state, we see examples of this connection between repairing our broken infrastructure, cleaning up our environment, and creating jobs. Take Seattle’s Barton Basin. This project will install low impact development solutions including bio swales to approximately 32 blocks in Seattle. As a result of these solutions, the City will reduce the amount of water flowing into the piped sewer system, create jobs, filter polluted stormwater runoff, reduce overall energy devoted to pumping and treatment, and increase walkability in the community. The communities that are making these investments are the same ones we all want to live in - Portland, Austin, Bellingham and Bellevue - because they are engaging places that have open space and natural areas, efficient transit, jobs, and neighborhoods where you can walk or bike to shops, schools, and local services.
We need a resolution that we can all get behind. A resolution that changes decision-making in environmental and economic spheres and recognizes they go hand in hand. A commitment to environmental sustainability means a drive to more efficiency and innovation. We should reject the argument that gutting our environmental laws will make our communities healthier and our economy stronger. We should not sell out a long-term economic recovery for a short term pick me up. We need a resolution that we can all get behind: a renewed commitment to a strong economic and environmental future not a compromised one.
That’s our resolution at Futurewise.
Roads to Recovery
As we near the end of the year, we’re starting to see small signs of an improving economy. Yet, despite signs of good news, for most of Washington’s communities and citizens, economic recovery has not yet occurred.
Our local and state governments continue to struggle to keep up with the long-term investments that make our communities better. Infrastructure across the state is ailing. And we’re now another year farther behind in repairing failing infrastructure and in providing adequate transit for people to get to their jobs and work. Without something changing, there is limited funding on the horizon to address the long-standing maintenance and repair needs for roads and transit.
Putting off this repair work has costly implications for the future – by not making investments today to maintain our roads, local jurisdictions and the state are setting themselves up for much more significant reconstruction costs in the future. In addition to the escalated costs, there are the costs in lost productivity and income that comes when our citizens cannot rely on efficient roads and transit. The conversations in Olympia this coming session will evolve around trying to address all three issues – fixing infrastructure, stimulating the economy, and JOBS, JOBS, JOBS. Injecting money into transportation projects is viewed as an effective tool that can address all three by not only putting construction workers and contractors to work quickly but also laying the groundwork for future economic growth as well as improving the safety and health of our communities.
We at Futurewise agree. We believe that addressing our failing transportation infrastructure and providing greater transit solutions can stimulate the economy and provide critical jobs. We believe that a focus on building new roads and neglecting the ones we already have will not solve our transportation crisis. Moreover to do so, will only compound the problem, by encouraging sprawl, increasing congestion, and further harming public health. We also know how important it is to focus those investments so that we advance other state policy objectives like restoring Puget Sound, reducing global warming pollution, and conserving working farms and forests.
We believe we can get a win for our economy and environment as long as new investments in transportation are focused on three key principles:
● Fix it first; Save lives. We need to prioritize our state transportation dollars to fix the crumbling bridges and roads we have first, and then ensure that new investments we make will create jobs, spur economic growth and improve the safety and health of our communities.
● More transit. Establishing a state funding source to expand our transit choices will reduce traffic congestion, improve freight mobility, decrease pollution, spur economic development, and connect our rural communities.
● Build great, healthy communities. Development and transportation go hand-in-hand. We need a more efficient transportation system that supports affordable and healthy neighborhoods -- that connects Washingtonians to jobs, their community and each other.
In our work with communities around the state, citizens are saying the same thing. And so last year, we launched our big campaign, Transportation for Washington, to focus the conversation in Olympia and at the local level around jobs, economic recovery, and our need to fix our failing roads and bridges, provide more transit, and create more livable neighborhoods where people can easily connect to jobs, services and community with more efficient transportation. Through this campaign, we have built a coalition of supporters from housing, social equity, environment, labor, business, and local government.
The results of the most recent federal stimulus package support our approach. A recent report analyzes by state the recent investment from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) in infrastructure to show the best use of transportation spending based on job creation numbers. Based on data the states sent to Congress, the states that created the most jobs were the ones that invested in public transportation projects and projects that maintained and repaired existing roads and bridges.1
Those states that spent their funds on building new roads and bridges created fewer jobs. For those states that put their funding towards public transportation, each dollar used on transit was 75% more effective at putting people to work than a dollar used for highway work. Repair and maintenance projects create jobs more quickly than building new roads because they employ more kinds of workers, spend less money on land and more on wages, and spend less time on plans and permits.2 These results should guide our state legislature in revitalizing our state’s transportation system, maximizing job creation from transportation dollars and rebuilding the economy.
Well-utilized transportation funding can stimulate the economy, create jobs, fix failing infrastructure, and build great, healthy communities. This last year, we were part of a number of transportation successes from protecting transit funding in counties around the state to helping adopt complete streets policies. This coming year, as the focus turns to creating a state transportation revenue package, we will be working hard for you in Olympia and around the state to make sure that your dollars are spent on what is important to you – fixing our failing transportation infrastructure, ensuring increased transit and multi-modal opportunities, and creating jobs and a true economic recovery.
Your voice on this issue matters. Around the country, we see people mobilizing on issues like the Keystone XL pipeline and off shore oil drilling. It's not as easy to get people as excited about long-term solutions like better transit options and smart urban planning. But if we don't reduce demand for oil and make jobs and services more accessible to residents through solutions like strong fuel-efficiency standards, better transit options, and smart urban planning, we find ourselves dependent on development projects like the Keystone XL and deep sea oil drilling. It is how we can be part of the larger solution right here in our home state.
We hope you will join us in mobilizing and speaking out for a cleaner, brigher future where our state's economy is growing again not based on the old way but based on a clean, safe, and secure transportation system, with well-maintained roadways, reduced commute times, convenient transit and healthy walkable communities.
*1 Smart Growth America Report. The States and Stimulus Spending: Are they using it to create jobs and 21st century transportation. June 2009.
*2 Arthur C. Nelson et al., The Best Stimulus for the Money: Briefing Papers on the Economics of Transportation Spending, University of Utah's Metropolitan Research Center and Smart Growth America, April 2009
If we knew we could make a difference, we would. If we knew we could do something that mattered; something that really changed things for the better, of course we would. If any one of us knew that we could do something, anything, to create a healthier environment, to build stronger communities, and to ensure a better future, well, we'd do it. I really believe that. We want to have an impact. We want to make it better.
And, together WE ARE. Honestly. The gifts you give to Futurewise, your financial support and the time and talents you share, really do matter. They even change the world around us, for the better. I can say this without hesitation. I see it all around me -- everyday.
In this season of giving and of being thankful, let me share some examples with you. This year we won a decision that will help protect over 46,000 acres in one of our state’s most beautiful forests, the Upper Teanaway. The area spent the last month ablaze with color and life with its abundance of rich foliage and plenty of water, and it is now preparing for a long hibernation. It is a place where birds and wildlife frequent often, along with hikers, recreationists, and naturalists. We did not hesitate in protecting this one – the stakes were too high – the benefits too great. There is more to this simple story. The community who lives around the Upper Teanaway could call on Futurewise because members like you were willing to give of themselves – frankly, to give money to support the work we do. Thanks to your support we had the resources available and the need was met.
A similar story plays out in our work this year in Whatcom, Pierce, and Ferry counties, where in total more than 400,000 acres of farmland were at risk. Local citizens, farmers, and agricultural organizations from these communities came together, to ask for Futurewise’s help to protect healthy soils, ensure local food supplies, and support their rural economies. And because of you, Tim was there, helping conserve much of our state’s diminishing prime agricultural resource lands. Later this week, we will sit down together at a table with our friends and family and be reminded of the true value of the land, local foods, farmers, and community – and we will be thankful.
While we were in the rural areas of our state, we were also in our most urban communities, making a direct difference in thousands of people’s lives by protecting public transit and developing policies to make our cities more walkable and bikeable. Public transit helps achieve various public health and equity goals by reducing air pollution emissions, increasing physical fitness, improving non-drivers’ access to goods, services, and jobs, and reducing financial burdens on low-income households. It serves as a catalyst for more compact, walkable communities. Because you gave, Brock helped mobilize over 15,000 transit riders to speak out about the importance of local transit in order to access basic essential services, education, and employment. Further, we saved over 1.2 million rides on public transit in Pierce County alone. Also because of you, Kitty in Spokane, Kristin in Snohomish County, and Cathy in Bellingham have been working with citizens and policy makers in these communities to make them models in affordable housing, low impact, compact development, with complete streets for walkers, cyclists, and transit. Through your giving, we are making our communities healthy for the environment and for people.
And there’s more. Because we get that it’s our state government who ultimately decides whether we build healthy, compact communities with adequate multi-modal infrastructure, we’re focused there too, Brock and the rest of our team through our Transportation For Washington campaign, has built a coalition of over 63 organizations and nearly 100 public officials to reframe the focus of transportation funding and policy at the state level to focus on three simple principles: fix it first, expand transit choices, and build great, healthy communities. April, our state policy director is preventing rollbacks in Olympia on our key environmental laws and last year won adoption of two significant clean water protections. Next week, she’ll be back in Olympia for special session, helping make sure our leaders understand that trading our natural resources and pushing sprawl will not generate jobs – that keeping Washington a great place to live and do business, with healthy livable cities, improved efficient infrastructure, and innovative industries will form the foundation of our recovery.
Yes, it all matters. Futurewise makes a difference. You make a difference. No one person can solve the significant challenges we face. Nor should they. In a world where life sometimes seems to hinge on performance and productivity and the impact of a single individual, we are still about so much more. Community matters. Place matters. You matter. Futurewise matters. Futurewise has a role and purpose. And without your generous support, that would not be the case. So in this season of giving and of thanks, let me say thank you for giving and for helping Futurewise make a real, lasting difference in our communities and in the larger world.
Please consider Futurewise in your year-end giving. Futurewise is an extremely trim organization and your money is spent only where it is absolutely necessary. It takes contributions from partners like you to keep our organization running day-to-day, as well as to have the financial resources to fund our programs and protections across the state. Futurewise is a 501c3 nonprofit organization which means your contribution is fully tax-deductible. Click here for options to make your year-end gift.
I just finished my second week as Futurewise’s new executive director. It has been two weeks of much activity and great work. I am inspired and honored to be part of such an effective organization, with committed, knowledgeable staff and engaged, active members.
I joined Futurewise because I believe Futurewise is the organization that has and will continue to make a big impact and create transformative change in the things that matter most to Washington residents. From protecting millions of acres of working farmland to shaping policies that ensure reliable transit and healthy liveable communities, Futurewise has played a pivotal role in many of the most important environmental victories over the past 20 years.
As effective as the organization has been over the past 20 years, we need to do our best work in the years ahead. The challenges, as well as the opportunities, are too great.
Given this moment in time, with all the social, economic and environmental challenges our communities face, unprecedented collaboration is needed among nonprofit, private and public sectors. Futurewise recognizes the power of partnerships and collaboration for creating change and is working hard to develop more innovative solutions to our age old challenges. We believe that transforming long-broken systems is imperative and the opportunity to make enduring change is now.
Looking forward here are a few big impact projects we want to complete through collaborative partnerships and innovative solutions:
Creating Sustainable, Livable Communities -- We have made a firm commitment to be a solutions-oriented organization. For example, we cannot just work to stop bad state and local policies from being adopted. We will work with communities to develop solutions that will fix their failing infrastructure, protect their open space and natural areas, strengthen their local economies, create diverse affordable housing, and clean their waterways. We must be as effective in our advocacy for tangible and pragmatic solutions as we are in our opposition to bad ideas. In essence, we will not just advocate for local governments to do the right thing; we will help them get there.
Protecting our natural resource lands – What’s your favorite natural place in Washington state? Places like the great forests in Upper Teanaway Valley, the rich farmlands in Skagit Valley, or the Olympics over the Puget Sound have become iconic images of Washington State. For each of these great places, Futurewise has been there protecting it. As the earth warms and our population grows, our work becomes even more critical -- we will need to make our large open spaces, forests, farmlands, wetlands and streams more resilient to climate change and urban sprawl. We will be here working on creative solutions to protect our large parks and wilderness areas, to restore wetlands and shorelines, and to protect our soils, forests, and prairies to soak up more carbon and ensure viable natural resource areas for future generations. This is because our work is critical not just for protecting these great places for our generation to enjoy but for future generations to enjoy as well.
Improve Transportation Options – Futurewise is one of the few statewide environmental organizations that is engaged at the local as well as state level in shaping critical policies that will help solve our transportation challenges. In the next year, we will increase our leadership at the state level to secure new, dedicated funding options for our local communities to fix broken infrastructure, save and improve transit, and build great, healthy communities with a comprehensive and integrated multi-modal transportation network. We are also working closely with communities in King, Pierce, Snohomish, Whatcom, and Spokane Counties, advocating for better transit, safer streets, low impact development, and complete streets policies.
Today, we have the chance to work together differently, to make changes that have too long been delayed, and to innovate for the good of local communities, our citizens, and our environment. Come join us. And if you have any advice for me in my new job or want to meet with me, let me know!