New survey shows what Bellingham residents think about downtown

About half of Bellingham residents live between a mile and 5 miles from downtown, but nearly 60 percent of them said they wouldn’t consider moving closer, according to a recently released city survey.

Even so, 82% said they had moderate to high confidence in the future of downtown.

Most survey respondents said they enjoy shopping in the city center, eating at restaurants and attending entertainment events.

And they want more of what downtown has to offer.

“The one thing that I loved hearing was that people are happy with our downtown,” said Mason Luvera, communications director of the Downtown Bellingham Partnership.

“People are really excited about the new businesses that they’re seeing downtown,” Luvera said in an interview with The Bellingham Herald. “We’re seeing people do creative things.”

Bellingham’s survey was conducted May 13-31 by the Planning and Community Development Department with help from the Downtown Bellingham Partnership.

A total of 2,608 residents — about 3% of Bellingham’s 90,110 population — completed the online survey, according to a report on the survey at the city’s website.

It updates a 2011 survey and will help city officials prepare for the decade ahead, said Darby Cowles, senior planner.

“It’s not a scientific survey,” Cowles said. “It’s a statistically significant response rate. We were really happy about that.”

About 38 percent of respondents said they agree or strongly agree that “Downtown is a better place than it was 10 years ago” in the 2019 survey, compared to 53% of respondents in 2011.

Some 36% said they feel safe downtown at night, the same as in 2011.

But 48% said they do not feel safe, a figure that’s up 8% from 2011.

“It seemed like rather than feeling unsafe, there was just some frustration,” Cowles said in an interview.

She said that complaints about downtown often focus on homelessness, but she said that isn’t always the source of all disruptive behavior.

“Homelessness gets tagged as the issue, but it’s a lot of different populations,” including mentally ill people and substance abusers.

Cowles said many respondents also complained about the price and availability of parking.

“I see that as a plus, that downtown is more popular,” she said.

Bellingham residents who said they’d never live downtown cited noise, lack of parking and safety as the reasons they prefer to live outside the urban core.

Those who said they would like to live in or near downtown said it was close to services, school or work and that they prefer an urban lifestyle.

Residents who responded to the survey also said that they want more public bathrooms, public art, public spaces to gather and relax, and more restaurants and entertainment.

Other findings:

46% said they felt comfortable bringing young children downtown, and they wanted a park with a playground and more family-oriented activities.

72% of respondents said downtown was a good or excellent place to do business.

82% said they had moderate to high confidence in the future of downtown.

70% agreed or strongly agreed that downtown is an exciting and active place.

More than 40% of respondents said they spend one-third to one-half of their monthly income on rent/mortgage/utilities. Almost 18% said they spend more. (Personal finance websites such as The Balance recommend spending no more than 30% of income on housing.)