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Town Center earns international attention for ‘smart growth’

77 Central, a green-certified apartment complex in the Town Center, attracts new city residents.  - Archive photo/Mercer Island Reporter
77 Central, a green-certified apartment complex in the Town Center, attracts new city residents.
— image credit: Archive photo/Mercer Island Reporter

Downtown Mercer Island was the center of international attention on Feb. 2, when approximately 50 visitors from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore toured the Town Center. The visit was part of “Smart Growth in Small Towns,” a program run by the Center for Livable Communities. Mercer Island was selected among a handful of Washington cities, including Port Townsend, Kirkland and Langley on Whidbey Island, for its “livability” and public amenities.

“Mercer Island is recognized as one of the top-rated communities in Washington, and its new higher density town center core provides a glimpse into the future of other prosperous areas seeking a more balanced municipal budget, achieved through increased density,” City Communications Coordinator Joy Johnston wrote in a press release.

Mayor Jim Pearman was among a handful of city representatives who helped to lead the tour. The mayor emphasized what an honor it is that Mercer Island was selected by the Center for Livable Communities.

“It’s a very special thing that Mercer Island was picked to be one of the stars in our whole area,” he said. “We live here, so we’re kind of blind to it, but development [in the Town Center] is very unique and extremely sought after. We’re a huge model, both regionally and nationally.”

The visiting delegation split up into subgroups, each of which visited a different section of the Town Center; from the new plaza on 78th Avenue S.E., to Aljoya House, to a picturesque walk through the Lid Park.

The tour roster included planners, elected officials and independent consultants. It was led by walkability expert Dan Burden, urban designer Mark Hinshaw, and Paul Zykofsky, director of the Center for Livable Communities at the Local Government Commission.

The group visited over 10 neighborhoods, towns and small cities to explore issues such as downtown revitalization, infill housing, green development and transformation of suburban bedroom communities to complete towns and cities.

A second tour took place on Sunday, Feb. 7. This visit examined the city of Mercer Island’s commitment to creating a compact, walkable and transit-oriented community. The tour highlighted the Town Center’s dense urban housing, retail, civic buildings and spaces, and “pleasant streetscapes.”

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