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South End leaders talk ‘placemaking’ in Langley

Langley City Councilman Bruce Allen welcomes people to the second Langley Economic Forum on Tuesday.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Langley City Councilman Bruce Allen welcomes people to the second Langley Economic Forum on Tuesday.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Placemaking was the buzz word during the second Langley Economic Forum on Tuesday.

It can take the form of designing parks near businesses or the supposedly inadvertent creation of an arts hub at the Langley Middle School campus.

The three presenters and speakers at the forum, which drew far fewer participants — about 35 — than the first brainstorming session, discussed their roles in placemaking in Langley. Most of the discussion centered around existing successes and was largely a rehashing of things already done or scheduled to happen in Langley, rather than a look at what could be.

Schools Superintendent Jo Moccia spoke of the fortunate happenstance that led to Island Dance, Whidbey Children’s Theater and Creativity Source leasing space at the school district. Student enrollment was down and the school board reversed course on a plan to consolidate the middle school and high school, leaving district officials with a problem that needed solving.

“We still had a situation where we had space we didn’t need and declining enrollment,” Moccia said.

Coupled with a plan to shutter some district facilities and rearrange the location of others, the solutions to the district’s vacancy woes were found, one by one, in new tenants. A collection of education-related groups, including Whidbey Island Community Education Center, rented Bayview School.

The result was the inadvertent creation of an arts hub around the middle school. It was good for the district but also helped centralize performance arts in Langley, she said, a role that may bring in money to the city.

“Some people thought we had lemons and we made some real sweet lemonade,” Moccia said.

In a similar way, Langley Planning Director Jeff Arango talked about using open space to the city’s advantage. Places like Boy and Dog Park on First Street invite people to sit, stay, grab a slice from Village Pizzeria and enjoy the view.

“Langley does placemaking well,” he said.

One major project ahead of Langley is the Second Street redesign. Though mainly proposed for infrastructure replacements to the city’s waterline and street, the opportunity allows Langley to remake the form and function along one of the main thoroughfares in town.

“Great public spaces are an economic driver,” Arango said. “They must be community-driven, open and inclusive.”

Basically, the planning idea is that if people are encouraged to slow down, to spend time in an area, they are more likely to spend money. So rather than just re-do the street and water pipes, Second Street will become more inviting to pedestrians and shoppers. The new design includes an additional 7,500 square feet of walking space — an area taking away from street parking.

Signs serve as an important identifier in placemaking, too. That was one reason metal artist Tim Leonard was invited to speak on his contributions to Langley. Leonard, owner of Heavy Metal Works in Langley, designed the WICA letters, umbrellas at Langley Middle School and at Useless Bay Coffee Company, and most recently the “Spy a whale, ring the bell” sign at Hladky Memorial Park, commonly called Whale Bell Park. The whale sign was a project by a South Whidbey Girl Scouts troop which rang the bell not knowing that it was a town beacon for a whale sighting in Saratoga Passage.

“I helped them hang it up there because I was the tallest one there,” he said.

 

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