How Vancouver, WA Built a City for All Generations

Once known as a bedroom community of the greater Portland region, my city is now a hub of its own. Located along the Columbia River, Vancouver, Washington, a city of 186,000, is bustling with energy, vitality, and excitement about the future. Take a walk around this small big city and you are likely to bump into a millennial, a senior, and a working parent.

Vancouver is a beautiful, welcoming community where our residents are engaged with people and organizations across generations and age groups. Over the last few years, we have been intentional with our efforts to build a city that would accommodate individuals of all ages and all abilities. We provide the infrastructure and services that people need to stay connected and healthy, and programming to offer experiences for people to fully participate in the life of our city.

What does participation look like? Making it easy for an older resident to get to their doctor’s appointment using a bus that pulls right up to the curbside. Or investing in libraries and parks that play a major role in connecting people in the community. Or attracting employers who are drawn to Vancouver for the diversity and skills of our people and the beauty of our city for their employees.

Access to services and medical care, safe transportation options, quality and affordable housing and connection to community are all areas that jurisdictions can influence. For example, the city owns all the streets and sidewalks in Vancouver – so we can add, repair, redesign curb cuts and ADA corners. We are continually working to improve these assets so that they are accessible and safe for everyone, regardless of whether they are young or old, or if they have a mobility challenge.

Admittedly, talking about redesigning streets or adding transportation options can seem daunting. The intricacies of zoning and street ordinances can get personal very quickly, and we have to build political will to do planning for the long-term. That’s why we started with our community.

We went to our community to get their support — and passed! — a referendum to establish and fund a $42 million, property tax-funded Affordable Housing Fund in 2016 to support low-income households with a special focus on seniors. In 2017, the City Council passed a Complete Streets Ordinance that under-girded our transportation capital projects.

The Clark County Commission on Aging, a resident-focused group, has done a lot of work in helping us as leaders think about universal building designs and strategies that would allow people to age in place. The Commission’s work to get our city prepared for our aging population also helped us to attract millennials, hipsters and a cross-section of individuals who were also looking for a city with affordable housing, accessibility, attractive open spaces, and a culture of resident engagement.

The result: Vancouver has been named the Most Romantic City, the Best Place to Retire, and the Most Hipster City. In the end, we are building a city that has the services, infrastructure, and culture that help people stay healthy, active, productive and engaged through every stage of life.

Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle was originally elected to Vancouver City Council in November 2013 and took her first oath of office on January 1, 2014. She became the first woman to serve as Mayor of Vancouver on January 1, 2018, where she has helped to lead efforts in economic development, regional community relations, and transportation.