Leavenworth meetings seek shared vision for residents and businesses
When Carl Florea campaigned for mayor of Leavenworth, he spent a lot of time talking about the need to build bridges between the business community and residents.
Florea, a former pastor and a driving force behind the development of Upper Valley MEND (Meeting Each Need with Dignity), a nonprofit that continues to serve as a connection point to those in the economic and social margins in the Upper Valley, is making good on his promise.
Leavenworth will soon be launching a series of three community conversations to discuss the community’s strengths, its challenges and opportunities.
On the first three Mondays in April, he’s inviting community members to come together from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Icicle River Middle School commons with the goal of developing a sustainable model for a working community.
Florea is calling this effort Leavenworth Improvement For Everyone (LIFE) 2.0, in honor of the original LIFE committee in the 1960s — an effort that led to the adoption of the Bavarian theme that transformed the city into a tourist Mecca.
A growing number of people in the community believe business interests have become more important than maintaining the quality of life for the town’s residents. One aspect of that quality of life, in Florea’s judgment, is making a conscious effort to address the serious affordable housing issues that is making it difficult for working class people to afford to live where they work.
This emphasis on thinking about the entire community has led to some folks considering Florea anti-business, but he rejects that label. “It has felt like the economic engine (tourism) is a runaway train. We need to get back to where (the residents) are part of that same train,” Florea told me. As it stands now, residents and business owners tend to be pointing at each other and saying, “you’re the problem,” Florea said.
That’s why coming together to celebrate successes, talk about the strengths of the valley and the challenges, is critical to developing a shared vision. It begins with talking about a shared vision of what business owners and community members want Leavenworth to look like in 25-30 years. To facilitate these conversations, Mike Nash of Nash Consulting has donated his services to facilitate the dialogue.
One of the challenges in the community is that many working committees are made up of either business owners or residents. That’s something that Florea would like to see change, because talking through tough issues together creates better decisions and forces people to acknowledge that there are tradeoffs. Residents need healthy businesses and the businesses need a healthy community.
Parking is one issue that Florea is committed to addressing. The city has already decided to meter parking in the downtown core to prevent people from parking on the street all day. The city will also need to take some steps to lessen the impact of that decision on residents, he said.
The city has in the past not asked businesses for fees that would mitigate impacts on the community, but Florea thinks that would be a smart move.
What I appreciate about Florea’s thinking is that he sees businesses and residents as part of one community rather than as separate constituencies. This sense of separation was, I believe, a key driver in the acrimony over the Adventure Park proposal.
It is my fervent hope that business owners and community residents will take this opportunity to celebrate the great achievements of Leavenworth and lean into its challenges and craft a shared vision for the future.
It doesn’t have to be businesses vs. residents. It takes both to be a community.