I had a chance meeting once with a most interesting man; Dr. Gilbert Clotaire Rapaille, a French marketing consultant. He is the CEO and Founder of Archetype Discoveries Worldwide. Dr. Rapaille is a cultural anthropologist who helps large corporations understand the culture of their buyers in such a way to craft their products and advertising message. He is acknowledged worldwide for his ability to analyze and understand people’s most basic beliefs and feelings. At the time I met him, he was working with Boeing to help them understand the archetype of flight, in order to better design airplanes. We got to talking about the archetype of the Village. He was very excited about this concept.
Looking back on it, it was one of the most unexpected and informative conversations I’ve had about what we now call “a sense of place.” He predicted at that time, it was 2001, that Americans would tire of strip malls, shopping malls, big box stores and living in towns that had no center. I told him about Crown Point, the town I where I grew up in Indiana. My hometown boasts a main street called “Main Street.” The brick courthouse is surrounded by small shops, the Crown Theater and Joe’s Pizza. Around the corner is the library, a few churches, and the Lake County Jail which boasts the story of John Dillinger breaking out with a fake gun carved from a bar of soap.
When I moved to the Northwest, I visited Edmonds. I immediately felt connected to this town, which is so much like the one where I grew up. Dr. Rapaille explained that standing in a place and seeing the components of what we think of as hometown: a church, a main street of shops and places to eat, a City Hall…. all this is core within our human psyche. The fact that people greet each other here, cars stop to let people cross the street… these are huge in our reptilian brain. Rapaille explains it as, “An imprint, a mental connection about what means love, what means mother, what means being fed, what means a home, what means all the things that are very basic for survival.”
Dr. Rapaille predicted Americans would reach back to what I was fortunate to have in Indiana. He called it the “Village Archetype.” The development in Mill Creek called “Town Center,” and “The Village” at Alderwood Mall are proving him right. These places are attempting to make themselves into what we have had here in Edmonds all along.
We’ve got the village archetype all wrapped up with a bow. Edmonds is a gift we have inherited from our city founders of 1890. These predecessors laid out our town as was done in those days, before anyone ever heard of a mini-mall or would even consider laying out a neighborhood without sidewalks. Any newer city built once car culture took over the country are more likely look like our younger neighbors of Lynnwood or Shoreline. Edmonds can boast that rare thing — a walkable main street called “Main Street.” However, we cannot rest on the laurels of our forefathers. This village of our needs tending and vision.
One of our city stewards, Community Services/Economic Development Director Patrick Doherty, has a key role in protecting our town’s culture and helping us stay vibrant and economically healthy.
The Edmonds 2015 Comprehensive Economic Development Plan priorities includes creating affordable housing, adding employment, downtown and business district revitalization, small business assistance, expansion of existing businesses, new business recruitment and site selection assistance, community marketing, historic preservation, tourism generation, public relations, streamlining permit processes, and special development or streetscape projects (including public art).
Doherty has his work cut out for him. His frugal advertising budget is aimed mostly at attracting new business to Edmonds. People looking to relocate or start new enterprises are attracted by the lifestyle Edmonds can offer. They are not just choosing a place to work but a place to live, and raise their families and to possibly retire. Edmonds is in a strong position to attract that new commerce. We need that new commerce. New business coming into town is a win-win, but we need to plan for accommodating them once recruited.
Our Department of Economic Development is limited in its ability to keep the downtown pedestrian area vital and growing because zoning is not currently in place to encourage pedestrian friendly businesses in the retail core. Doherty states, “There is an interval of engagement. Every 50 feet needs to offer a new experience for people walking along. You have to keep people engaged or they will turn back.” He acknowledges that zoning could be updated to encourage places of interest at sidewalk level with offices and residences above.
This well-established model is based on what has worked in European cities for centuries. If Edmonds wants to emulate that, we would need to steer what would go into existing locations or what could be developed in underused locations when they become available. When current tenants vacate, new zoning could direct updated uses. “It could take years to play out.” states Doherty.
A quick conversation with Edmonds City Council President Mike Nelson was encouraging. Nelson observed, “Edmonds offers that personal connection that is so important. We need to decide what we want our downtown to look like, and not let it just haphazardly come together. That will take vision and zoning.”
Another looming issue is parking. The only folks that come in my store who don’t complain about parking are from Seattle. Parking is so difficult there they think our free three-hour parking is a gift, even if they have to walk a few blocks.
In many regards, Edmonds is so charming because it was not developed around the needs of cars, but for people on foot (and on horseback). But the price we are paying now is a lack of adequate parking for the cars we use in today’s world. Parking is not addressed in the 2015 Development Plan mentioned above. At some point, the city will need to step up and provide leadership and funding to provide adequate parking for visitors and residents alike. Hopefully sooner than later.
In the meantime, Edmonds is applying to a be a new category of city in the State of Washington: A “Designated Creative District.” The upcoming release of the Economic Impact of the Arts Study will be a useful tool in achieving this special designation. We are one step closer to being able to answer the question, “What does it mean when we say we are an Art Town?” Patrick Doherty sees this new designation as a step in that direction, Designated Creative Districts can strive to garner grant money and staff support in future years if the state grows the program to provide funding. I am pleased Edmonds could become an official Creative District. How cool is that?
My Indiana hometown has survived the mall era, and is a cute-as-a-bug rediscovered small town full of indie businesses. So is Edmonds. I have hopes there will be updated zoning on preserving and growing our downtown to be a rich experience for pedestrians. I am optimistic that more people will join the movement to “Buy Local” and shift their spending to dine, shop, contract and invest with our local entrepreneurs…. And someone will start making plans for more parking.
I think Dr. Rapaille would be pleased to see his insightful predictions for the comeback of the Village happening here in Edmonds, and hopefully in towns and cities across America. We can all benefit from living in a town with a sense of place. The “Village Archetype”…. It’s the place to be.
— By Tracy Kay Felix
Tracy Felix is currently the President of the Downtown Edmonds Merchant Association, and Co-Owner of ARTspot.