Since 1988, Bellingham, WA, city and community leaders have followed a plan to improve their small yet vibrant downtown. Sure, that plan has changed from time to time, getting an update here and there, and while new construction projects and even revitalization plans are still in the works, the results speak for themselves. More than 1,000 new residences were constructed downtown, renovated storefronts and redesigned streets enhanced the visual appeal, and businesses have created more jobs.
Local business owners make up the majority of Bellingham’s economy, which keeps money in the pockets of residents who reinvest in their community by supporting other local businesses. This city by the bay has become a model for urban sustainability, and the downtown area highlights how a local living economy can work. The “buy local” movement is strongly supported, and some residents even barter with others for food, services and building supplies. A population of nearly 2,400 residents and about 7,500 employees in the downtown area enjoy a highly walkable community with easy access to grocery stores, parks, restaurants and entertainment venues. Depot Market, a central gathering point in the downtown area, hosts the Bellingham Farmers Market, one of the largest farmers markets in Washington, plus many other events throughout the year.
Bellingham holds the second highest ratio of arts-related businesses to residents in the country, and it shows. Functional works of art like benches, street lights, trash cans and bicycle racks add a touch of whimsy across downtown. Whatcom Creek creates a natural boundary around the Cultural Arts District, which includes the beautifully restored Mt. Baker Theatre as well as Whatcom Museum and Pickford Film Center. Events like summer concerts, food festivals and parades draw thousands of people to this area. Downtown Bellingham is dotted with green parks, yet one of the largest green spaces, Sehome Hill Arboretum, is located less than a mile south of the Arts District, near Western Washington University.