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A description from one perspective
By Robert

In many ways, Bellingham is a typical mid sized American city.  I write a lot about local issues, but they aren't just local.  Cities all across America have similar problems.  The things I suggest for Bellingham could apply to other places as well.  Many "global issues" are really "local issues."  For instance local things like public transportation address issues  like global warming.

The city of subdued excitement, subdued expectations

One can say there is a lot of natural beauty around town, but Bellingham is not that much different than many other places to live.  Wherever there are people, there are both good and bad things.  Most local people seem concerned about the environment, but the private automobile is still the main means of transportation.  I-5 cuts right through town. 

Some are disappointed that Bellingham is just "another average city" in many ways, while others love living in this fairly friendly and relaxed community. 

Cities, water and mountains

Just East of town is the North Cascade mountains.  Puget sound and the San Juan Islands are to the west. 

Vancouver, B.C. is only about 50 miles north while booming Seattle, WA. is only 90 miles south. 

Some fear that those two cities are growing together and guess who is in the middle; Bellingham. 

The Chuckanut Mountains, just south of town, and the international border, to the north, help keep Bellingham in its own world.  With out these geographic features, Bellingham could just get swallowed up by the big cities and spit out as another "Lynwood, Washington."  Lynwood is a sprawling suburb of Seattle where there once was a T-shirt proclaiming it as a "city noted for absolutely nothing."  

Subdued weather

Some are disappointed by the weather.  They come expecting a "lush green" environment, but forget the fact that a "cool damp" climate is needed to pay for that environment.  Often it doesn't rain that hard, but we get our rain "one drop at a time."  There are times when it feels like it is always threatening to rain, but never does.  One can give up outdoor plans, due to threatening skies, only to have the sun come out a few hours later; as if to laugh at one for canceling plans.  From July into September, the weather can be sunny and dry. These days, late summer can bring forest fire smoke, yes even to Bellingham. It's been quite bad on certain recent years.

Subdued economy

Others find the local job market disappointing.  In Bellingham it's not unusual to find someone with advanced degrees working as a waiter.  There seems to be a tremendous oversupply of highly qualified people for the local job market.  It may not be easy to find high paying work, but there are a lot of interesting and highly educated people around.  For those willing to count "quality of life" as much of their compensation, it can be a treat.  Since 2020 more and more Bellingham folks work online at jobs that are based who knows where.

Western Washington University, with its 15,000, or so, students, plays a big part in the economy.  Bellingham also has a technical college, a community college, Northwest Indian College out at the Lummi Reservation and some other learning places.  It draws interesting people from all over the country.  On the other hand, the educational institutions, themselves, create a large share of the professional jobs.  The area's largest employer is Peace Health which runs Saint Joseph's Hospital.  Much of the rest of the local economy is retailing.  Students who graduate from local institutions of higher learning often try to go to work for those institutions after they graduate.

Blue collar, white collar, grey collar ?

Oil refineries provide some of what are called "family wage" jobs in both Whatcom County and neighboring Skagit County to the south.  Some high tech. employers are tucked away in surprising places; such as people's homes.  More and more people bring their work with them. Telecoumuting.  There are quite a few people doing work like free lance writers, who can live anywhere they want and choose to live here.  It is kind of layed back and comfortable.

Often I wonder how people make their living.  Bellingham is a retirement destination for sure.  "A grey collar economy?" 

Education and retirement. 

Get educated and then retire. 

Sounds good to me.

Reader comments

My name is Kate and I am looking to move to Bellingham within the next two years.  I've got a kid in college, so I'm waiting a little while for him to settle, then Mom gets to go to a greener place!  I've seen a lot of blogs about Bellingham, but yours seems to be pretty straight forward, and if I knew how to post on your blog, I would have said this there.  So, thanks for the clear information, and for showing the good with the less appetizing.  

Peace-In, Kate =^,^=

From Ireland

We found your site most informative.  It was the first non-glossy, objective and independent portrait of the city that sells itself so well on the internet.  Although we do feel somewhat guilty by our association with the throngs of new settlers into the community; we selected Bellingham as the place where we want to settle.

Funny, we are already hoping that it doesn't grow anymore once we get there!  Unfortunately, growth is inevitable everywhere in the world.  The median population growth statistics suggests a world population of over 11 billion by 2030 (almost double what it was in the 1990s).  Yikes!  Where are all of these people going to live?  Ireland is expected to have over 1million additional mouths to feed by 2025 alone, and it's a small island with very finite space.  Development here has gone completely high density, with small towns becoming satellite cities, almost all-connected with concrete.  Not the Ireland that I once dreamed of living in.  I imagine that the long-term residents of Bellingham feel the same way.  But, alas, we must find a place to call home, and Bellingham is it!  We'll keep very quiet though, and as we are strong advocates of recycling, pedestrianization, evironmental friendliness, etc., we shouldn't corrupt the area too much.


More comments

It was very interesting to read your information about Bellingham on your web site.  I have been thinking about moving there from North Carolina, but after reading your information, will certainly reconsider.  You more or less confirmed my concerns about the economy.  I have been checking and and all I could find in Bellingham was fast food or convenience store openings.
Their Chamber of Commerce web site makes you believe Bellingham is a lush green paradise of a place to live and that all is perfect.  But from what I can gather and what I read from your web site, I would probably disagree with that.  Also, home prices are very high there.
Thanks for your website.
Best regards,

Another comment

We're back from our trip to northwest Washington.

We were enthralled by what we saw on our journey. The surprises were both positive and negative. Anacortes turned out to be less than we'd hoped for... it's physically larger than we'd imagined and very bland save for about two blocks of Commercial Street. Nothing wrong with it mind you, just unflavored.

We looked at Mt. Vernon... too big! We looked at Burlington and Sedro-Woolley... just right! We also looked at LaConner and found a delightful little town, but far too tourist choked to live with... imagine what it must be like in June, July, and August.

Then to Camano Island, nice but remote. It's growing like a weed and prices are reflecting that. Whidbey Island... only two villages worth considering there. Coupeville (very quiet) and Langley, which we liked a lot. Langley has a very visible alternate life style community. The trouble is... it's so far down Whidbey Island you have to drive a hundred miles to get anywhere, or take a ferry to Port Townsend or Mukilteo. That'd be a pain for us we think.

The Kitsap peninsula was gorgeous: Port Townsend, Sequim (what is it with that place?), Port Ludlow, Poulsbo (the LaConner effect), and Port Orchard where we stayed two nights. But we wouldn't want to live there.

Sorry we didn't get to Bellingham this time. But we'll be back in the spring... armed with a lot more time.

Best wishes,