Your Downtown Community Food Co-op — Listening and Learning
by Holly O’Neil
Holly O’Neil is a Community Food Co-op member-owner and co-op board facilitator.
In his Whatcom Watch article, [January 2015, page 4] Preston Schiller did a fantastic job of of- fering strong and clear critique of the design concepts for the Community Food Co-op’s down- town parking lot, while offering his respect and appreciation for everyone involved. As Preston noted, there has also been a lot of active member engagement in this process. The Co-op is owned by more than 18,000 voting members and is used by the whole community. As you may surmise, there are a wide range of needs and expectations to balance.
As one part of the Co-op’s efforts to listen and learn, last October we hosted a Dining with the Di-rectors, and about 60 members attended to enjoy a meal together and discuss the latest designs for improvements to the downtown store. One of the hot points of the discussion was the parking lot. I was facilitating the discussion, and I believe this topic was so charged because it taps into some very real concerns about global climate change and peak oil. There is added complexity when people of different income levels, ages, and physical abilities start telling each other what they “should” or “shouldn’t” do. We see this this almost every day in world news.
Nonetheless, attendees (being the cooperative bunch that they are) did seek creative solutions. Then in January, the board and general manager took time dur- ing the board meeting to discuss Preston’s recent Whatcom Watch article, which was met with great
appreciation and interest. Every- one recognizes that the discussion on how to operate a business while balancing impacts on climate change will be ongoing..
In 2012, the Co-op created a 10- year strategic plan with extensive input from our member-owners. One of the goals that came out of this process was economic resil- ience of this cooperative business. At the root of this current change is the fact that the parking lot is very small for a store our size and is a frequent source of customer frustration and complaints. Moreover, the Co-op is in an increasingly competitive marketplace, with Whole Foods coming to town, and conventional grocery stores jumping into the realm of natural foods and loosely defined “local” sourcing. To con- tinue to thrive, the Community Food Co-op, our Co-op, must bal- ance complex issues both now and in the years ahead.
To the matter at hand: here’s where we are at now with the improvements at the downtown store site, informed by active engagement and input from the member-owners:
Parking for Bikes and Cars
Co-op management has asked the architect to develop three proposals. The board will review the proposals in February and select the best option for improving the space, safety, and flow. Retaining the yew tree will be in one design option.
Bike parking has been added to the new connections build- ing (across the street from the downtown store) and new covered bike parking is also planned at the downtown store.
Landscaping and Green Spaces
Botanists evaluated the yew tree
species on the site. Trees were identified as European (aka English or Common) yew, not the native Pacific yew.
We will be identifying plants on the corner of Forest and Chestnut to rehome at the new connections building site as well as community partners to help in relocating plants.
There will be a native plants landscape design for new connections building corner.
Deepening the Conversation
We developed a survey (now on the Co-op’s website) to gather more information on member’s transportation choices and motivations, and awareness of current Co-op incentive programs.
Can our thinking be shaped by the intelligence and imagination of our member-owners? Absolutely. The entire design process has been, and is still being shaped by people who care about the environment, care about the community and care about the future. There may not be a perfect solution, but the solutions we create will continue to be shaped and strengthened by the input and engagement of our community.
Thank you to Preston and others who have joined in the conversa- tion for sharing your thoughts and helping us to proceed with care and creativity.