Reader view: Is Edmonds ready for neighborhood associations?

In brief, neighborhood associations are voluntary organizations of stakeholders in a neighborhood. They agree to work together for the betterment of their area of town, within defined boundaries. Neighborhood associations offer a place to meet neighbors, exchange information, create projects and priorities, propose solutions, and have fun.

They are open to everyone in the neighborhood — renters, homeowners and businesses, as well as people from churches, schools, and other non-profits. A neighborhood association is formed based on the needs and desires of its stakeholders. By working together, people can get more things done than individuals working alone. (Note neighborhood associations are not HOAs, homeowners’ associations. They have no authority to assess charges or make enforceable rules.)

What do they do

Neighborhood associations often focus first on solving problems, maybe local crime issues or that obsolete traffic signal endangering pedestrians. They also work for neighborhood improvements, perhaps reviewing the city’s capital facilities plan to make sure local projects are included, or participating in designing a new city project in their neighborhood.

These associations often focus on City Hall because the city provides most of the public services effecting neighborhoods. The City of Edmonds is moving ahead on a number of projects, large and small, that will affect our neighborhoods.

By the end of next year, the city must adopt a new Comprehensive Plan, and it must allow for substantial growth over the following 20 years. How will that growth effect our neighborhoods? How much influence will each neighborhood have in shaping its own future? A good organization can become a collective voice of its neighborhood; it can make things happen.

Neighborhood associations also organize community events such as block parties and area cleanups. These can be effective ways for neighbors to know each other better and welcome newcomers to the neighborhood. They help build a stronger sense of community. Over time, a good association will earn credibility and political clout and become an effective force for a better neighborhood.

Neighborhood associations typically have a steering committee or a board of directors. They usually hold monthly meetings open to the public. Some money does need to be raised, usually for creating a website and printing flyers. As an all-volunteer operation, nobody gets paid.

Neighborhood associations in nearby cities

I was struck by how many neighboring cities already have neighborhood associations in place. Everett has 19 neighborhoods, each with its own association. The city offers small grants for associations to carry out improvement projects.

Bellevue has 16 neighborhood associations, each one with a liaison from city Neighborhood Outreach staff. Shoreline has 14 organized neighborhoods and a citywide Council of Neighborhoods where association representatives meet to discuss common issues.

While many cities support local associations and encourage their formation, the actual organizing work comes from the grassroots. The groups themselves operate independently. They decide what projects to do and policies to advocate; occasionally they may need to fight city hall.

There’s much material on the internet easily found by searching.

Where do we go from here?

Neighborhood associations work to enhance quality of life in their neighborhoods, support participation in city government and foster a greater sense of community. I believe Edmonds is ready for a system of neighborhood associations across this city. Or at least get the idea out there for conversation.

If there is enough interest, we could discuss the issue further in a public forum, perhaps inviting people from neighborhood associations in nearby cities. Or a few people may be ready to just seize the opportunity and create one in their neighborhood right now.

— By Roger Pence

Roger Pence lives in Edmonds.

  1. I think that this is an excellent idea. Certain neighborhoods in Edmonds are very well organized and already have voluntary organizations to represent their interests to city government. Those organizations could set an example for other neighborhoods that are starting to mobilize in this way.

    There has been discussion from the Edmonds planning department of setting up a tool kit for to help neighnors organize. But it sounds like other nearby cities are far more advanced than us in this regard.

    1. Neighbors getting together to make things happen in their community is lovely when it’s an organic, grassroots effort. I think it is telling that Jenna offers, “There has been discussion from the Edmonds planning department of setting up a tool kit for (sic) to help neighbors organize.” No thanks, planning department, I’ve had about enough of your surveys and tinkering and re-imagining. If neighborhoods allow the city to guide their efforts, the whole exercise would be just another example of the city shoehorning itself into something best left for volunteers and concerned citizens.

  2. I agree, Roger. A lot of benefits can come from a neighborhood association. We have an informal one we created on the street we live on and it’s been great being able to put names to a home, having neighborhood barbecues, talking about what’s working and what’s not. It’s a great way to form community and builds trust amongst neighbors. It’s an easy way to inform and be informed which translates to a stronger, more resilient neighborhood and town.

  3. This input from Roger Pence provides some very timely, and needed information re: neighborhood associations. We live and own property in the Firdale neighborhood of EDMONDS. In regard to some public safety and capital improvement issues, our part of Edmonds is ready for a neighborhood association. Working hand-in-hand with City government, let’s see what we can accomplish.

  4. Such a simple yet powerful idea. Not only can neighborhood associations facilitate a sense of community, but they can also lead to a stronger voice to our elected officials. As opposed to individual comments and concerns being voiced to City Hall, collective voices are louder and easier to be heard.

    This is also a two-way street. While we expect City Hall to help us, we can help ourselves through a robust network of local neighborhood associations. As pointed out, everything from beautification to enhanced safety. Over time, fostering neighborhood associations will improve the quality of life for us all. Great idea!

  5. I strongly support this idea. Besides adding to a sense of community these associations would offer an opportunity to be pro-active, whereas we as individuals are mostly confined to post facto reactions.
    As a former boss of mine used to say “get off the side-lines and into the game!”

  6. Excellent idea Roger. We have a small group of activists in our neighborhood. It started with protests against building a 7 story, 261 unit apartment building at 84th Avenue W and 236th Street SW. We also, with your assistance, were able to get stop signs installed at that same dangerous intersection. Previous to that, many neighbors signed petitions to control speeding on 84th Avenue W. That resulted in a radar feedback sign at 231st and 84th. We were also successful in moving budget funding forward for sidewalks on 84th (yet to be constructed). If you want to improve your neighborhood, you must work as a team to get the attention necessary to accomplish your neighborhood’s goals.

  7. Diversity of Ideas will create good options. Great start Roger.
    In the past there where Block Watch areas in town.
    Another one that focuses on Safety and brings neighbors together is the
    National Neighborhood Watch
    Technology may offer an App to help communicate to neighbors issues that are on topic.
    There are a lot of possibilities to encourage “community” engagement and improvements.

  8. Great idea, Roger!

    our Seaview neighborhood has organized block parties in the past and one since COVID even without forming an association. Sometimes simple is better. We also have a Block Watch Facebook page and have an email group for bringing attention to issues we see in the neighborhood.

    The Police Dept used to have community officer that would visit neighborhoods and discuss all these issues for public safety. Unfortunately, this officer was cut because of the Great Recession and it was only last year when the position was established and works up in the 99 office.

    The City does allow for application for street closures on dead end streets for neighborhood events. We did a few and then moved it to a neighborhood yard when we received a complaint from a person who blamed my knowledge of code to be a problem. I am uncertain if any liability insurance will be needed in the neighborhood forms an association as I’m not updated on the current code for special events for neighborhood street closures.

    Community should come first after family and the more neighbors you know – the easier it is to look after one another.

  9. Bell Street Neighborhood has had a very informal and unofficial association for over ten years now. This developed out of a burglary and the perceived need for us to all look out for each other to some extent. I share Diane’s view that these things might best be kept simple and not orchestrated in any way by city planning or visioning. I see this as different from my idea of having districts and Council Persons elected out of districts with specific constituents to represent. Looking at Roger’s idea here, I think this might be a better and simpler way to achieve a similar result as going to a district system. Mayors and Council Persons could have informal Town Halls with the various associations or combination of Associations whenever they perceived the need.

  10. As someone who lived in Shoreline and was on a neighborhood association board it can be a worthwhile idea. Now living in Edmonds, I definitely feel there can be benefits from having a local group that provides a framework and forum to help with communication and solve issues.

  11. Thank you Roger for initiating this conversation. A sense of community and belonging is key for every neighborhood, and I hope that everyone reading this thinks about how they can build more of that where they live. Copying the model of successful neighborhood associations, or elements of them, may be a good way to do that.

  12. Roger, I appreciate all of this information, especially the closer look a nearby Everett. While Everett certainly has its share of problems, it also does many things right; the strength of their school system, for example. We shouldn’t be so focused on Edmonds that we don’t learn from other cities.

  13. I love this idea and feel like the city has done an excellent job of laying the foundation through the City of Edmonds’ Reimagining Neighborhoods & Streets program, thanks to Mayor Mike Nelson, Susan McLaughin and her team. I live and work in the bowl/downtown and through being involved in this volunteer opportunity, I’ve met more neighbors and business owners and have had the pleasure of organizing PorchFest. Having neighborhood associations takes it a few steps further and I really see value in that.

  14. Thank you everyone for so many good comments, all of them positive; very encouraging. I sense we’re ready for a further step to develop this idea of neighborhood associations in Edmonds.

    Let’s convene a public forum where we can meet people from nearby cities with neighborhood associations. Let’s hear from volunteers who have successfully lead neighborhood associations. I’d like to hear a city staff liaison, how they work between City Hall and the neighborhoods. Maybe hear also from an elected official, their perception of the associations.

    I’ll add myself to the list of presenters. Years ago, I was heavily involved with neighborhood associations in Seattle, where they are often called community councils. I have lots of stories to tell, but I’ll try to focus on lessons that could apply here in Edmonds.

    Anyone who can help organize this event, please send contact information to Teresa to forward to me. I suggest we find a venue outside the Bowl.

    I often talk about “advancing the civic conversation,” and I believe a forum like this can do that. Edmonds is a great small city, and I’m confident we can work together to make it better yet.

  15. The above is exactly why we need to have Roger on our council. Roger is already suggesting ways to improve our city governance, listening to residents, and attempting to provide real solutions that people are asking for… in some instances, begging for. Instead of coming at this with a list of pre-canned ideas to implement, he is suggesting listening and learning from the folks that are most effected by the decisions that will be made by our elected officials. Our civic discourse has degraded to such a state in recent years, that it won’t improve until residents take some of that into their own hands and are supported by elected officials responsible for implementing their voice. I have met Roger once when he took it upon himself to seek out my council and advice, is extremely responsive and thoughtful, smart, and is down to earth to boot. If you have not had the chance to have him try to win you over, give him a chance to!

    1. Hi Tom,
      Thank you very much for the warm words, but I want to clarify that my support for neighborhood associations goes beyond my campaign for Edmonds City Council. I’d be advocating for these associations even if I weren’t a candidate.

      For this public forum next month, I want to involve a broad range of people, not just voters who support my campaign. My opponent will be invited to participate if she wishes. The issue is larger than any one candidate.

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