Commentary: The Waterfront Center and the significance of place

Photo courtesy Edmonds Waterfront Center

As we prepare to welcome the community into the new Waterfront Center (subject to the course of COVID-19 and meeting safety protocols), it is important that we place this milestone into a larger frame. Our story is more than the building.

On January 13, we kicked off The Waterfront Forum, a three-part Zoom series with presentations from local experts. The first session “Story of Place” was presented by local author and executive educator Carol Sanford. In her remarks, Sanford discussed how the shared story of place can bring people together, stating, “Place grows out of the rich interrelationship of the earth, local nature and local cultures.”

The ground on which the building sits is sacred. Millions of years ago, the Olympic mountains were formed as the Farallon tectonic plate on the ocean floor subducted under the continental land mass. Later, massive glaciers repeatedly formed and receded to carve out the Puget Sound (Salish Sea). Evidence of Settlements of Coast Salish Tribes date back to 3000 BC.

A common value of indigenous people is that of stewardship; a responsibility to care for and tend that from which you draw life. Instead of owning land and waterways, it is a symbiotic relationship balancing give and take. Through this frame of reference, we are all merely stewards; in this role, we must cherish and care for the land for future generations. In making decisions, many tribes use the principle of “seven generations.” Every major decision considers the impact it will have on the future seven generations. We can learn from this long view.

We honor this extraordinary corner of the world we call home, with its majestic mountains, vast forests, wildlife, and the Puget Sound. We honor the Coast Salish people, stewards of the land and sea for thousands of years. Coast Salish art displayed in the building will pay tribute to their contributions.

The LEED Gold certification for the Waterfront Center (no fossil fuel on site and full rooftop solar array), meeting green building construction and management standards, is part of our commitment to future generations. The orientation of the building and walls of windows are designed to connect staff and visitors to the natural world, with a front row seat to watch the Salish Sea inhale and exhale with every change of the tide.

Leaders who came before us made decisions and sacrifices that set in motion the possibility of this multigenerational community resource where people can gather, learn and celebrate. Thousands of people have contributed time and money toward this vision. Each of those individuals have their own life stories that led them to this place, and are added to the tapestry of our collective story. The Waterfront Center will welcome all through its doors and will stand as a reflection of our unique geography, and the interrelationship of our natural world, and cultural history.

The next Waterfront Forum, “Indigenous Peoples” presented by Dennis Lewarch, Suquamish Tribe Archaeologist, is scheduled for Jan. 27, from 12-12:30 p.m., with an additional 15 minutes for questions. The final forum in the series, “Early Settlers/Sawmill Town” presented by Katie Kelly, director of Edmonds Historical Museum, will be held Feb. 10 from 12-12:30 p.m., with an additional 15 minutes for questions.

To register, email

You will receive a confirmation email, and a Zoom invite link the day before each presentation. If you are not familiar with Zoom, include a request for directions, and you will be connected with our IT specialist. Questions: 425-744-5555. No cost to attend.

— By Daniel Johnson, CEO
Edmonds Waterfront Center (Senior Center)

  1. It’s awesome that we have reached a point where indigenous lands are recognized and we have some strong environmental action being taken, but I have more questions. What actions will be taken to support the indigenous tribes who are still actively working to revive their cultures? How can we support indigenous folks through more than cultural appreciation?

  2. I loved this story. I wish I had known before all I learned from Carol. I would then have understood why this structure was being built.
    So, can’t wait to see it all and see the Art Work…etc. I bet a lot of people who didn’t know like me will now get it. Kudos on the Solar and no fossil fuels too. I hope the Satish Tribes will show us their ceremonial Music and dancing. I sure enjoyed going to the annual Tulalip Tribes private on res on the water. Very spiritual feeling it was…I was invited by the heads to come every year forever…I took this as a great honor. I still do.
    What more can we do…well let’s ask them…and go from there. Love Deb.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.

By commenting here you agree to abide by our Code of Conduct. Please read our code at the bottom of this page before commenting.