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Originally published Friday, September 30, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Piecing together a great future for a powerful Eastside

The Eastside is a collection of more than 30 communities and cities from the shores of Lake Washington to the Cascade foothills, from Bothell...

Special to The Times

The Eastside is a collection of more than 30 communities and cities from the shores of Lake Washington to the Cascade foothills, from Bothell in the north to Renton in the south. One city, Kirkland, is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, while another area, Fairwood, is just thinking about incorporating.

The region has been described as a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces sometimes work best alone but together make up a rich and complex picture.

Interestingly, a recent Eastside community survey commissioned by Leadership Eastside painted a picture of Eastside residents as feeling good about where they live but lacking — and not really wanting — a regional identity. The most common single identifier of what it means to live on the Eastside, according to the poll, was that "we're not Seattle."

As mayors of three of these cities, we know the truth — and reality — of our identity is far more complex. We are faced daily with the need to balance local priorities with regional problem-solving. It shouldn't come as a surprise that we sometimes disagree with our colleagues on the particulars, but as cities, we come together on issues of mutual concern when we see that our goals are compatible.

When our interests do coincide and it makes business sense — and this happens more often than not — our cities ally together, bringing considerable clout to the greater regional discussions. Our citizens would be pleased to know about these efforts.

Cascade Water Alliance is a shining example of regional cooperation at its best. This coalition of eight cities and water districts is planning for and providing a safe, clean, affordable residential and commercial water supply for the Eastside for the next 50 years.

Other examples of inter-city cooperation include the nationally recognized E-Gov Alliance and ARCH (A Regional Coalition of Housing), EPSCA (Eastside Public Safety Communications Agency), the Eastside Human Service Forum, and Eastside Transportation Partnership.

Growth and diversity have been generally good for our communities, but not without challenge. They've brought economic prosperity and vitality. In Bellevue, sticking to a community plan to accept most of our growth in 2 percent of our land — the downtown core — has made it possible to preserve the unique character of our neighborhoods. In Kirkland, density provides the backdrop to finding new solutions to transportation and congestion problems. Density is the price we pay for avoiding sprawl.

Where is the Eastside headed? The future of our cities and the region is bright. The Eastside's rich diversity is a huge part of why we are so successful. Blending the cultures, ideas and customs from folks who call any one of our communities home has helped to distinguish us from other areas.

To maintain healthy communities — the kinds of places survey respondents said they liked so much about living on the Eastside — first and foremost means engaging citizens in the decision-making process. How can we respond to the simplistic approach of, for example, Initiative 912, which will repeal the gas tax, with the complex message of how devastating its passage would be to our cities and region? Citizens need to be informed, engaged and actively participating in this messy business of democracy to keep our communities healthy.

Leadership is like running a relay race — it's important to have someone capable and ready to take the baton. The region has to take deliberate steps toward building community leaders at every level — this won't happen without working at it through efforts such as Leadership Eastside.

Our Eastside jigsaw puzzle works well piece by piece; the survey data support this. Creating the big picture among all these wonderful pieces is a work in progress, compounded by complex issues, changing demographics, varying forms of government and more. It's a delicate and chaotic process that resists easy answers and is perhaps more difficult now than ever. We believe our communities are up to the task.

The Eastside is a powerful region with a great future. Join a community conversation. Volunteer your time. Attend a city council meeting. Get engaged! It may change you, and it surely will change the life of our Eastside region.

Connie Marshall is mayor of Bellevue, cmarshall@ci.bellevue.wa.us; Mary-Alyce Burleigh is mayor of Kirkland, mburleigh@ci.kirkland.wa.us; Ava Frisinger is mayor of Issaquah, mayor@ci.issaquah.wa.us. Bellevue, Kirkland and Issaquah are among the founding cities of Leadership Eastside. For more information on the Leadership Eastside community survey, visit www.leadershipeastside.com

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