From the Publisher’s Desk: Renaming Highway 99 neighborhood? Let’s have a process for that

Highway 99 as it runs south to north through Edmonds, courtesy of Google Earth. Lake Ballinger is on the right.

For the sake of transparency, I’ll admit this issue is personal for me. The only place I’ve lived in Edmonds is near Highway 99.

My husband and I purchased our first starter home — a true fixer-upper on 230th Street Southwest near 74th Avenue West — in the mid-1980s. We were two blocks from Highway 99 and several blocks from Lake Ballinger. We had been renting in Seattle but couldn’t afford to buy a place there. This opportunity to build sweat equity, by literally tearing out carpeting, refinishing floors, repainting walls and laying down sod, was grueling and satisfying. We shopped at Country Farms outdoor produce market and at the mark-your-own-cans grocery store before it became a Rite Aid. We watched as the Kmart became the Ranch 99 Market complex, and soon Edmonds had its own International District.

Several years later, with our two kids approaching their middle school years, we knew we needed more space. We were very lucky to find a larger home that we could afford close to the lake — and we’ve lived there ever since.

So personally, I was thrilled when the City of Edmonds under Mayor Dave Earling began work to revitalize the Highway 99 area by developing a subarea plan, which was approved by the city council in 2017. (That work inspired me to publish a six-part “Transforming Highway 99” series in 2018.) And I was equally excited when the city, under Mayor Mike Nelson, hosted an “Uptown Market” in the area last summer.

Which brings me to the topic of this column.

While the “Uptown Market” is a catchy name and certainly was effective in reinforcing the location of the market outside of downtown Edmonds, I am now seeing more and more references — in city press releases and other communications — to the Highway 99 area as “Uptown.” Which begs several questions.

First, should city officials — who may or may not live around Highway 99 — be the ones deciding what the Highway 99 neighborhood calls itself? Shouldn’t there be some type of process for that? Meetings, surveys or maybe even an actual ballot mailed out to all households in the area?

Second, which parts of Highway 99, exactly, will this area — be it “Uptown” or something else — encompass? In past discussions about Highway 99, the area near Swedish Edmonds hospital and its related medical facilities has been called the Hospital District. The area near Ranch 99 Market, including many Asian businesses, is the International District. Further muddying the waters, the Highway 99 corridor study developed as part of the subarea plan referred to the entire Highway 99 corridor in Edmonds as the Gateway District.

As many have noted, the needs of those who live near Highway 99 have been ignored by the city for far too long. Let’s make sure we have a thoughtful, thorough, inclusive discussion — with those who actually live there — before deciding our neighborhood’s identity.

— Teresa Wippel, Publisher



  1. Highway 99 corridor could secede from Edmonds, become their own town. There’s clear different interests and reasons for self determination. The area isn’t properly represented, but also they need to test their own ideas.
    Break off, re-incorporate.

  2. Thank you for highlighting this issue, Teresa Wippel. Like you, I have lived in the Lake Ballinger area off the Highway 99 corridor of Edmonds for a long time.

    Names matter. For example, when I lived in Minneapolis, the area referred to as “Uptown” was also simultaneously called the “ghetto” by affluent white coworkers of mine because that neighborhood has a large Black and Latino population.

    Before this area of Edmonds that we both live in now, adjacent to Lake Ballinger, was gentrified, apparently some people called it the “ghetto of Edmonds.”

    Yes, we are not as rich as the people who live in the Edmonds bowl, but our majority minority, mostly blue-collar neighborhoods are not “ghettos.“ And if Mayor Nelson’s administration and the City of Edmonds tries to further gentrify our community by applying labels to us without our consent, I am going to stop them.

  3. Can someone define what neighborhood is being renamed here? The Lake Ballinger neighborhood is the Lake Ballinger neighborhood, so I don’t see that being included. Is it quite literally the HWY99 stretch +\- an adjacent block? In general agree that there needs to be a process for this. Certainly a phrase like “uptown” can have many connotations beyond literal elevation, which in this case is true. Regardless of what this area was viewed as recently, a quick review of home prices would clearly show that whatever it was no longer is. And, with the light rail coming and the HWY99 redevelopment, I think will continue to become a very desirable location to live for many reasons. Happy to know one of the editors of this wonderful outlet is a neighbor of mine.

    1. Agree. 99 was really more of a service centered area.. Grocery stores, Large chain like Wall Mart Freds all of them and then a lot of a run down one night? motels. also mainly very tacky and run down store fronts… we didn’t call it a ghetto…but it was not very nice. Now with the big uptick in housing sales and people coming here spending a lot to live in areas that didn’t used to even have spots not much anyway has caused the new living here to say hey we want nice. AND I agree with them. WE need nice from end to end. I support the International Food Market. But I think it might be best to incorporate many cultures here. I would like to see all store fronts torn down or made nice with decent businesses that are interesting.
      I would like to see also some nice hotels for tourists which will bring jobs. The nicer and more ammenities these have the higher the wages and tips…

  4. This letter makes perfect sense. Define the geographic boundaries and include the effected residents in meetings and decision making. Obviously, they feel ignored. Never heard the term “ghetto of Edmonds” ever used to define the Lake Ballinger neighborhood. That’s a new one and I have lived in the Edmonds area a long time.

  5. We live very close to the MLT border and are considering asking them to annex us. The city limits are drawn in a haphazard way east of 99, and we spend most of our time in MLT, patronizing businesses and public services (like the library and parks) there. We have met the mayor and a member of council and some civic leaders in MLT and felt welcomed in a way we never have in Edmonds. As one of my neighbors said, the only reason for our block to remain in Edmonds is the water tastes better.

  6. Personally, I’d rather we rename the roadway. “Highway 99” is more a description, not an actual name. In Everett it’s called Evergreen Way. In Seattle it’s Aurora Avenue. In south King County it’s International Blvd and Pacific Highway. Our other state highways all have names~ SR 104 is Edmonds Way, SR 524 is 196th St. SW.

    South Snohomish County is the only place where Highway 99 has no name. Edmonds should get together with Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace and agree on a name for this roadway, and then work with proper authorities to get new signs posted.

  7. Just a comment about the name, “Uptown”.
    A few months ago Seattle designated the area including Seattle Center as the Uptown neighborhood (like SoDo, South Queen Anne, etc.). So…if Edmonds wishes to use “Uptown”, I think it needs a clarifier like…”Uptown Edmonds”. Without that I can see businesses encountering confusion…if their ads state they are in Uptown – hmmm, does that mean Seattle???

  8. We have been here for 3 + years having immigrated from Seattle where I lived for 72 years. While looking for an option to live, we did not realize the boundaries of Edmonds were significant with the real estate market. There is the Bowl of Edmonds. Across the street we would not live in `Edmonds’ but across the way we would be outside of Edmonds. In Seattle there are all kinds of neighborhoods and they blend in different ways and have been through development. etc, etc. Nothing stays the same. Collective recognition that real estate value is not the only criteria of value is IMPORTANT. I like the open space of Lake Ballinger. We moved INTO Edmonds to be close to our small family and have sidewalks near to a park. It also provides Bowdoin Way, which at commuter time sounds more like a smaller version of H-99. Having H-99 be a major street in your city, needs signs to introduce many to the idea that crosswalks are not some medevil markings and cars do not rule the territory. Mountlake Terrace may be the most affordable of the two cities and perhaps people are not defined by the street on which they live.

  9. Timely article, Teresa.
    You’re on to something, Mr. Pence. Renaming 99 would give our piece of the highway a descriptive personality, something that numbers lack. Changing what 99 is called would inadvertently lend a name to the area.
    The neighborhoods surrounding the 99 corridor are so varied, I just refer to the area as Edmonds East. I don’t live there, but it’s important to remember Edmonds is more than the Bowl, or Westgate, or Seaview, etc.

  10. Thank you, Teresa for your as usual thoughtful commentary. And I hope we all don’t lose sight of your intended purpose – recommending a process devoted to consideration of renaming the Highway 99 area. As the British are inclined to say, full stop. There obviously are many other important issues related to that area, but they deserve their own processes. This is a good proposal on its own and merits attention.

  11. Teresa – thank you for pointing out the process needs to this issue. As with many other times when the process piece has been pointed out, this is again another example of how and when to seek residents input: before – not after – a decision has been made.

  12. I was a bit puzzled when it was named the “Uptown Market,” because when I googled “Uptown” I got a lot of answers that referred to its use to refer to an area where the affluent residences were. That’s an older, East Coast meaning, it seems – and the origins of Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.” But there are many other definitions, including referring to elevation, and that certainly applies to the area (relative to the Bowl.)
    I personally don’t care much what the region is called, and would agree that people living there should say what they want it to be called. That said, I don’t know that there was ever any formal process to identify The Bowl as such.

  13. Clearly this is a neighborhood that should be allowed to self identify. That being said, it would be interesting to see the Northwest Coast indigenous people’s name for the area rediscovered. City Council meetings are opened with a statement acknowledging indigenous people. Why not act upon that?

  14. I 100% agree with Teresa that there needs to be a full and inclusive process– not just some kind of arbitrary name selected. It could be something that is fun and gets the community excited and included. For example, residents in the identified community boundaries can be invited to submit names like a contest. There needs to be some kind of criteria for the names submitted — e.g., reflective of the community, tactful, inclusive, etc. If there are a lot of submittals there would need to be a committee to select ones to test. The city could then conduct a brief survey of all residents asking them to evaluate the selected names–e.g., what does the name mean to you? is it meaningful / descriptive of the neighborhood? does it have any negative connotations? rank order of preference? At the end of the day whoever created the winning name wins a small prize.

    A similar process to what Washington State Transportation Commission just did to name the last ferry and now the newest one that is coming.

    Renaming the street will require involvement from Washington State DOT as it is a state highway.

    1. I think it should be an exclusive process. Only people that live in the highway 99 corridor are allowed to brand themselves. Sodosopa.

  15. Yes — but other people both within and outside the community visit. Making it community only makes it “exclusive” rather than “inclusive.” Could exclusive mean you don’t belong? Aren’t welcome? Or do we have an inclusive process (i.e., community members identify potential names / community members narrow it down / community at large votes) where at the end of the day the whole of Edmonds can at least buy into / support the process?

  16. Why not just call it what it is? It is “up”town from “down”town Edmonds. Let’s not make it something it is not; keep it simple. Downtown can be quaint and older, while Uptown Edmonds can be big and modern. The whole City should be safe and well maintained. All parts should be unique parts of the whole and as citizen we should be equally proud of the various areas that make Edmonds Edmonds!
    That my opinion and it should be your…if you want.

  17. I think the new Highway 99 BID that the City should implement should have a choice in the naming and marketing and a short term committee should work with the Highway 99 BID to name the area and exchange ideas on how the businesses along this important corridor can assist residents in improving conditions along this vital stretch of neighborhoods and commerce.

  18. We too bought our first little house (all 850 sq Ft of it)) in what was then mostly called the Ballinger area, on 76th near 237th back in 1969, where my eldest son attended the late lamented Ballinger Elementary, then our second place was on 220th near 81st. That was a total of 20 years worth and yes, it was always “the wrong side of the tracks” Rarely visited the bowl in those days, other than, perhaps July 4. The locals should figure out what, if any name of their own they would like. Certainly, out downtown bold city council should not be making that decision.

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