LETTER: 'Burien, Into the Future'; thoughts on the Town Square Parcels 1Burien is a relatively young city. It has been incorporated for almost 20 years. The community, however, has been around much longer and has a rich history. All of the work that has been done to get Burien to where it is now has taken much effort and energy. We wouldn’t be have a city with such potential if it weren’t for those who came before and who are still working to create the best Burien.
Burien is at a crossroads. This is a time that requires careful thought and planning. What is decided about the remaining two Town Square parcels will set the tone for the city’s future. The city and its citizens must be very thoughtful and we must work together.
The planning of a city for a viable future can be a complicated process. There are many differing views on what makes a city successful. A city’s needs are met through a complex system that, when properly managed, create a functioning and livable place for its citizens. A thriving economy and accompanying tax revenue is what brings and keeps the people and services in the city. The city’s governing body is charged with having the vision to vote on and approve a solid plan of action. Without a long-term plan for the success of small and large businesses in a city, the city will stagnate awaiting a time when a new set of visionaries step in to create a new plan for success. The city must create the conditions under which commerce can thrive, create conditions that support residents and draw people from other areas to come and spend their money in the city. What is the formula for planning and implementing this plan for a successful economic future of the city of Burien?
It has been shown that a strong arts/cultural district is one of the most important ingredients in an economically successful city. The state of Iowa is an example of a state that has recognized the value of arts and business partnerships for economic success. In 2005 the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs certified nine Cultural and Entertainment Districts across the state. The creation of these cultural districts brings together performing and visual arts, working artists, restaurants and businesses in a centralized location to boost economic development through the support of the arts, history and culture. Once a cultural district is certified it is eligible for aid from the state for cultural rehabilitation and development.
The definition of an Arts and Cultural District:

“A Cultural District is a well-recognized, labeled area of a city in which a high concentration of cultural facilities and programs serve as an anchor of attraction. Typically, cultural districts are geographically defined, and have many different names, including: arts district, arts and entertainment district, arts and science district, artists’ quarter, museum district, and theatre district. Cultural districts can be found in communities as small as Pawtucket, RI to New York City. Cultural districts boost urban revitalization in many ways. They beautify and animate cities, provide employment, attract residents and tourists to the city, enhance property values, expand the tax base, and contribute to a creative, innovative environment.”

– Artists Link, www.artistlink.org

Culture here is defined by the celebrated heritage of the residents, the history of the area, and the fine arts: theatre/performance, dance, film, and literary arts, and design/architecture. Burien can use these elements to become a high-quality destination and embody a unique sense of place by planning in such a way that each of the areas defined are visibly represented throughout the city. An arts/cultural district is created when a cluster of arts and cultural facilities and amenities are established at city center. Thoughtful design is used to increase the quality of life for the residents, current and future and to bring visitors and their dollars, to the city. To be clear, it is not suggested that all of the arts/cultural venues be concentrated in one central area. A couple of main arts/culture/heritage venues would be tucked-in among civic buildings and mixed-in with strong business presence, creating a civic anchor. Radiating from this central point to the edges of the city in different neighborhoods a complete variety of cultural celebrations should exist. When the city supports the celebration of cultural diversity and the arts it has the effect of bringing new and varied consumers to the surrounding businesses causing competition for customer dollars by increasing the quality of services and goods thus, creating a higher level of commerce. As a result, this draws more people to spend their monies in Burien – an upward spiral. In the end the city’s tax revenues are higher, assuring quality services in the community.
The importance of the impact of a city’s arts/cultural district on its economic success has been studied. Many cities plan their future with an emphasis on arts and culture. Burien needs to create an Arts and Culture District in its downtown core. When the arts are a strong presence in a city, the city thrives. There are many examples of the success of this strategy all over the country.
The reason to begin this development at the downtown core is that when the heart of a city is strong, and solidly planned, the success that begins there spreads to the rest of the city. Where once there were vacant storefronts, there are thriving businesses. People want to participate in that success, and look to bring their business as close to that core as possible. Arterials leading from the downtown core, leading to sites of cultural and arts interest, are an important part of the whole city’s health drawing people through Burien and creating new, strong neighborhood centers with unique branding opportunities. But it all begins at the heart: Town Square. These places of interest can be thoughtfully planned so that visitors are funneled through the city where they discover businesses, activities, and parks they didn’t previously know existed, encouraging them to return to Burien again and again. The city can provide a map for visitors that highlight the various hot spots.
In the current economy it is easy to overlook arts and culture as a way to sustain an economy. It can seem to be a luxury; an extraneous part of a city’s budget. It is often one of the first items to be cut from the budget. It doesn’t feed, clothe, or house its citizens. Arts and culture can seem not as important as other services or budget-saving strategies by those who don’t have a personal connection or interest in art or culture. However, as is being discovered in the schools, most pressingly in the Highline School District, culture and the arts help establish important pathways deep within the mind and in the community.
Looked at in a holistic way, creating the structure on which the mixture of heritage, culture, and artistic endeavors is built, both physical and in spirit, will take Burien a long way towards solid fiscal stability and a healthy, thriving community.
Now is the time!! The Arts and Economic Development Committee of the Burien Arts Commission is re-envisioning this committee as peopled with diverse stakeholders and experts in Burien to assist in creating planning scenarios that reflect the desires of the citizens of Burien, and establish a strong economic development plan that will bring economic growth and stability to Burien. Burien has already made it clear that it values a strong arts and culture presence, as discovered in the 2011 Visioning Process, and subsequent adoption of relevant wording in the city’s Comp Plan and DC Zoning (see accompanying documents.) It takes more than just one organization, or one set of city staff, to create a solid plan. A well-rounded roster of people committed to round-table discussion is necessary to create the best scenario for the future of Burien.
The following excerpts are from a speech by former congressman and ambassador to Denmark Richard Swett, FAIA. He is a licensed architect
and vice president and managing principal at Leo A. Daly in Washington DC. The words are inspiring and are a call to exercise our civic duty:

“Has the ubiquitous “mall” replaced the once vital public square and siphoned out of our lives the meaning of community? Has the social platform for the meeting of commerce, religion, politics and celebration been forever replaced by the soullessness of shopping? How do we now symbolize our founding fathers’ motto, e pluribus unum—out of many, one—in the design of our civic architecture and public spaces?
“At the pace we are currently churning out urban plans and buildings, there is little time to even consider civic iconography or interpretation. And yet these concerns are, I believe, more important than ever. They are the signposts of our common identity and point us toward our shared goals.”
“It seems to me that people know less and less about how to fit into a society that is careening at breakneck speed. The spaces in the civic realm where we gather to reaffirm our commitments to community and the symbols and icons that affirm our common identity are weak or missing altogether. This is a subtle distinction, but important nonetheless. Much of what we know of great civilizations of the past exists through their architecture. Why should we be any different?”
“Our civic architecture should be timeless in the same sense that the constitution itself should be; a manifestation of a set of principles and binding relationships that can, like muscles, be flexed over time with each new generation. We, of all people, are obliged to ask, “What is architecture in America saying to us about ourselves?'”
“Today we face a more insipid, less obvious threat to our national common identity. Without the symbols and icons of our public places to help remind us who we are and without debate about what those symbols should be, and what they should mean, we will, as Lincoln so eloquently warned, face a dissolution of our national community via our chronic indifference, the antecedent to conditions of chaos and anarchy.”
“It is the unique responsibility of the architect (in partnership with city planners) to use space and design as a unifying force, to physically realize the insistent perception of community wherever it struggles to exist on its own.
“As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “If we are to restore to American public life the sense of shared experience, trust and common purpose that seems to be draining out of it, the quality of public design has got to be made a public issue because it is a political fact. It is not an efflorescence of elite aestheticism; it is the bone and muscle of democracy, and it is time those who see this begin insisting on it.” Robert Swett, 2011

– Shelli Park

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