Back-end Analysis

On the internet, you have front-end development -- the public-facing part of the website -- and back-end development -- the "back stage" parts that make the front end work but are not seen by the public. In community development, you have things that roughly correspond to that as well.

In December 2017, I applied for a community development job in Aberdeen, Washington. They hired someone else but he soon was making frustrated noises about quitting and others higher up the food chain were quietly telling me "You might have another shot at the job."

It is due to being told for two years that I might have another shot at the job that I spent two years developing my Sample Site for Downtown Aberdeen.

The published sample site is only PART of what I developed because some parts were written AS IF I had the job and was working for a particular local organization. I don't work there, so when I published the site, those parts were LEFT OUT to make sure it doesn't give people the wrong idea.

Also not on the site: Additional research into critical local issues that I would have worked on had I gotten the job but I would have worked on them QUIETLY so as to not draw a lot of attention to certain issues until I had a fix in hand.

Most of these are NOT "deal breakers" if you wish to do business in Aberdeen, but people tend to react strongly to anything that sounds like negative PR, so I would have kept it quiet until I could say "GOOD NEWS! We now have BLAH in place, so YADDA will no longer be a problem!"

Remediation for Mold et al

Aberdeen has the largest number of historic homes of any small town in the state. One local organization tried to use that to promote the town and there are signs pointing to the historic homes, info online about the historic homes, etc.

As noted previously, I don't think this is really any means to do economic development. Worse, I think it is being overlooked that old buildings tend to have issues, such as mold and asbestos.

This is a known issue in Aberdeen, though it gets little attention. The parcel acquired by Grays Harbor Transit (see footnote) to expand Aberdeen Station had a building on it that had to be torn down due to black mold and asbestos.

A few months ago, the local Pizza Hut shut down. Whenever I went in it, I could smell the mold and I don't have a good sense of smell. I personally am inclined to feel its failure to thrive and the fact that it had unremediated mold issues in the building are likely related.

Historic buildings can be valuable for adding character to a town, for grandfathering in pedestrian-friendly development patterns that tend to no longer get followed and for other reasons, but they come with a hidden downside that many people don't really think about: They tend to have issues such as mold, asbestos, etc.

If you are involved in developing a historic downtown, I highly recommend you QUIETLY address that for YOUR area of responsibility. I don't think it is being done in Aberdeen, Washington and I feel this is one reason the downtown continues to languish in spite of the town having high through traffic, good bones and other valuable infrastructure assets.


Aberdeen, Washington has high flood insurance premiums. The downtown has flooded a few times in the nearly six years I have lived here but it was a few inches, not waist-deep like historic photos showed and not flooding lower levels of buildings a few feet deep like I have heard about in stories from locals.

This is an issue Aberdeen has clearly been working on for a long time and things have improved. This is NOT a deal breaker for doing business here but there is still room for improvement.

Unfortunately, I do not foresee a LOT of improvement happening soon. I overheard someone whose job it is to do local economic development tell buddies "Ha! I don't have to worry about that! Not my problem! Empty storefronts due to the high cost of flood insurance is a good excuse to give my bosses for why they can't hassle me!"

Earthquake Hazards

The Coastal Washington region is overdue for a big earthquake. If you are doing development work of any kind anywhere in Coastal Washington, you should be actively researching the following:
  1. Earthquake resistant building codes and design, especially retrofitting and best practices.
  2. Tsunami mitigation.
  3. Post-disaster proposals for improving the town as it rebuilds because you may not have time to install mitigation before the next Big One shows up.
Locals may be largely oblivious to this issue. I haven't personally heard it talked about at public meetings or seen it in the local paper, etc.

Outside investors probably will NOT BE oblivious. If you wish to attract outside investment, you had better have some answers for why bringing their business to YOUR town that is overdue for an earthquake is not them being stupid and gambling on flushing their money down the toilet when a big earthquake hits shortly after they open the doors for business.

Aberdeen is especially vulnerable to tsunami damage. Some coastal towns in this region have less than five percent of their area in a tsunami zone. In contrast, more than seventy percent of Aberdeen is in a tsunami zone.
Aberdeen, for example, has about 3.6 square miles of developed land in the inundation zone. Because this represents 77% of Aberdeen’s developed land, the potential losses from a tsunami and the impact such losses will have on the entire community are likely to be substantial.
As a GUESS, anyone cavalierly laughing and bragging to buddies about how "My bosses can't bug me about empty storefronts because it's NOT MY FAULT that Aberdeen is at high risk of FLOODING!!!" is probably NOT researching tsunami mitigation strategies. I have been, but that is outside the scope of this piece.

Wind Tunnel Effects

This is not a constant issue in Aberdeen and is only really bad on some streets at some times of year. It is an intermittent issue and it impacts pedestrians more than people driving somewhere.

I have not been in a position to research effective solutions, but had I gotten the community development job for which I applied, I would have been looking into how to mitigate this going forward.

If you are looking to develop a pedestrian-friendly downtown, I recommend you regularly walk and/or bike the area of your responsibility, make a NOTE of any intermittent issues like wind tunnel effects and QUIETLY look to work on them as a "nice to have" to improve walkability.

Don't BLOG about it or post about it on Facebook or other social media until you have a FIX IN. Do not advertise it as a PROBLEM. It's really NOT a reason for businesses to avoid investing in your town but resolving intermittent issues so general appeal goes up can help make businesses more profitable and be a draw for the future.

I didn't get the job and never managed to establish the kind of personal influence in town that would have allowed me to QUIETLY bring up such issues with people in a position to address them and get my concerns taken seriously. If you have power to work on such, I recommend you do so QUIETLY.

If you are a concerned citizen, realize that bringing up issues of this sort and trying to address them will not be warmly welcomed by most people. Most people will not wish to FIX such things. They will want you to SHUT UP and accuse you of "talking trash" about the town rather than trying to improve it.

The diplomatic ideal is probably quietly research it, find a SOLUTION, bring solutions, not complaints if at all possible. (And hold your breath as you bring it up and expect to probably STILL get hated on, no matter how diplomatic you are.)

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