The wheels of progress, it has been said, turn slowly. That axiom comes to mind as we examine changes taking place in Ridgefield.
A decade ago, The Columbian reported on the completion of a yearslong effort to clean up a bankrupt industrial site in the city: “For citizens, the ceremony will highlight an unprecedented status for Ridgefield’s waterfront — it’s now open for public use.” Some 10 years later, Port of Ridgefield leaders have unveiled preliminary business plans for the future of the site — and the quickly growing city north of Vancouver.
The proposal envisions a prosperous city that has attractive amenities and makes use of its most attractive asset. Most important, it rebuffs complaints about a changing Ridgefield and any lingering hopes that the area can avoid exponential growth.
Those hopes were dashed long ago. From 2000 to 2010, Ridgefield’s population more than doubled; from 2010 to 2020, it doubled again. A city that officially had 2,147 residents at the beginning of the century now has approximately 13,000.
That left Ridgefield leaders with a choice: They could try to prevent growth and cling to the past, or they could embrace reality and effectively manage that growth. They have chosen wisely in working to help the city develop a unique culture rather than allowing it to become a soulless bedroom community to the nearby metropolis.
In September, for example, city leaders took a bus tour of pending developments. The tour included housing construction, a satellite campus for Clark College and the site of an upcoming Costco. There also was a nod to the need for wise planning rather than allowing unfettered growth dictated by developers.
City Manager Steve Stuart outlined the thinking: “How are we going to interconnect? How are we connecting the people with the place, the services and the amenities with the people that live here?” As Mayor Jennifer Lindsay added: “None of these projects are one-off projects. They’re all part of a bigger picture.”
Whether managing a city of 192,000 inhabitants such as Vancouver or one with 13,000 residents, seeing the big picture is essential. That brings us back to Ridgefield’s waterfront development.
The property lies along Lake River, which connects with Vancouver Lake to the south and the Columbia River to the north and is adjacent to downtown Ridgefield. For decades, the 41-acre site was home to Pacific Wood Treating, which declared bankruptcy and shut down in 1993, leaving behind toxic industrial waste.
A $70 million state-funded cleanup effort took years to make the land habitable. In that regard, it echoes the history of the Waterfront Vancouver development, the former site of a Boise Cascade plant which required decades of cleanup before the restaurants, offices and residences we see today could be envisioned. It also echoes the history of countless cities across the country, where reclaiming waterfronts for public use rather than industrial interests has been transformational.
Port of Ridgefield officials spent nine months developing a business plan for the site, and CEO Randy Mueller said: “It was planning all the different pieces and how they fit together, balancing the uses.”
That balance includes a new park and other proposals designed to attract people to the river. In the process, it reflects a new Ridgefield that is gearing up for a vibrant future — even if the process seems to move slowly at times.