Tacoma Urbanist

Mar. 24, 2008 at 12:03am

Tacoma's Unfortunate Acceptance, Acclimation to Blight

Perhaps one of Tacoma's largest problems has been our acceptance of severe blight in our neighborhoods and downtown.

Here's how St. Helens looks today in downtown Tacoma:

Here, some sort of worn asphalt roofing material has been laid down on top of, or in place of the sidewalk, difficult to tell which.  Looks to be indistinguishable treatment from a torch down roof.

Where is this located?  In the vacant warehouse district?  Hardly.  It is directly across from Tacoma City Hall.

Here, multiple cement patches made over the years connect together with a crude one foot wide tar patch with a broken curb.

This is hardly an emergency patch as the work appears to be a good many years old.  Those considering doing business with the city walk by or over this area on the way to City Hall.  Does these areas, adjacent to the Bostwick Building and perhaps 50 feet from City Hall given the impression that Tacoma is a city worth living, working or investing in?

Here's what people see if they should choose walk on Broadway, a half a block away from three of the city's theaters:

Multiple patches on the sidewalk on Broadway all of which are about ready to fall down a cliff.  The person repairing the sidewalk placed or allowed to be placed the word "CAT" in the larger patch.

Yet, these and other blighted areas have been around so long downtown there are invisible to many of use and have become the norm.

Here's how a sidewalk and curb is supposed to look:

(Redwood City 1/1/2008)

Yes, I realize the St. Helens tar patches may have been made to keep out water or address some other problem in a duct tape manner and are part of the Broadway LID. 

Yet, I am pretty sure that these "sidewalks" has been in this condition for a decade or more during which time Tacoma has been trying to attract employers and investment to the city.

Departing Chamber Of Commerce Director Paul Ellis gave a rather candidate explanation of Tacoma's acclimation to blight in his interview with the Business Examiner on 3/17/2008.

Question : What has been the biggest challenge in the rejuvenation effort?

Paul Ellis:....For many years, we were in denial about some of those problems.

An example would be how – for years – we had decaying buildings (e.g., the Luzon) at major intersections in our urban center, yet most of us failed to see them anymore. In the mid 1990s, we launched a campaign to identify those eyesores, worked out the means to address the problem properties...</b>

Tacoma lacks the funds to fix all of the infrastructure needs immediately.  However, there seem to be a number of blightful conditions in downtown and in other neighborhoods that are more predominant that should be made a high priority.

A good project would be to list the most predominant blightful sights in downtown Tacoma perhaps accompanied with some people who have never been downtown to gain fresh insights.

For more information, see:

Photos on downtown blight (Tacoma Urbanist)

Broadway LID Issue (Exit 133 Forum)

comments [14]  |  posted under tacoma


by Voronoff-the-Ghost-Critic on 3/24/2008 @ 9:57am
As a visual artist I approve of urban decay.
It is part of the spice of modern life.
I think many Tacomans are proud of the state of blight their seemingly fair city dwells in. It is somehow a source of pride to walk on bad tar patches, at least for some hipsters I recently interviewed.

by fredo on 3/24/2008 @ 11:27am
Thanks for calling this problem to the attention of the feedTacoma blog. I have been aware of this problem for many years. Apparently, in Tacoma, all tax funds are siphoned off by the municipal employees unions who, not suprisingly, provide financing for most of the successful city council campaigns. Only a few crumbs remain to be used for actual city maintenance. The beautiful sidewalk scene you point out is probably the result of a carefully maintained and fully-funded LID.

by Erik on 3/24/2008 @ 12:31pm
Here's another good shot of Broadway:

Todd Mathews from the Tacoma Daily Index has photo series of sorts for awhile.

As for the tar patches, I suspect they get pretty gooey in the summer.

by fredo on 3/24/2008 @ 12:35pm
Thanks, Erik. I guess I can put off fixing the sidewalk in front of my house for a couple more years.

by Twisty on 3/24/2008 @ 2:24pm
It's been more than a decade for those sidewalks, Erik. They were like that when I was a little kid (I'm 44 now).

I find it interesting that the city claims to have no money for this sort of thing, and yet other cities have no problem keeping things clean and maintained.

To my mind, the city government really only exists to provide basic services like police and fire protection, certain utilities, and streets and sidewalks. The City of Tacoma has been failing in MOST of these areas for more than a generation.

It seems that the City wants to have us look at UWT, the new convention center, Click Network, a few new condos... and then declare Tacoma to be a resounding success. I, in turn, see McKinley Park, the chuckholes that my little car falls into on nearly every side street, the 35-year-old Broadway Plaza debacle, the 50-year-old shortage of east-west arterials in the south end... and I can only shake my head.

Perhaps the worst part of all is the total lack of concern at City Hall.

Quite frankly, the only thing that keeps me here are family ties. If I were a newcomer, I doubt that I would settle down here.

by Erik Hanberg on 3/24/2008 @ 2:40pm
I'm not rushing to the defense of the City here, but our downtown sidewalks are crazy expensive compared to most cities because they are almost all elevated sidewalks. Comparing them to the suburban sidewalks or the flat sidewalks in another cities downtown is like comparing apples to apples made of gold: it's pretty much the same thing but one costs 69 cents and the other a bajillion dollars.

by Erik on 3/24/2008 @ 4:34pm
I don't blame city hall disproportionately for Tacoma's blight problem. Many of the conditions Tacomans have acquiesced to and have accepted them as "normal." Some even conclude they are endearing.

One of the problems though is that visitors and potential employers who are considering coming here are not so forgiving and are going to view the blightful conditions in contrast to other cities which don't have such eyesores.

by NineInchNachos on 3/24/2008 @ 5:17pm
The sidewalks on the far side of the street over by the YWCA shelter are horrid. I frequently break my ankles over there. Nice free parking though.

by ensie on 3/24/2008 @ 6:51pm
I guess I can put off fixing the sidewalk in front of my house for a couple more years.

Actually, no. You can't. The city screwed me out of a couple of thousand dollars to repair the sidewalks in front of my house. Although the assessment of the sidewalks was done years ago, before I owned (or even lived!) in Tacoma, the repairs that are being done now are the responsibility of the current home owner.

I had a short period of time to participate in the "matching funds" program offered by the city (you pay half, they pay half), or else you are on your own for the entire area the city deems needing to be replaced. While my sidewalk was replaced just a week or two after I made payment, I haven't seen a whole lot of work done anyplace else in Tacoma. Not sure if this is due to the fact that people don't have thousands of dollars to pitch in and they're waiting until later or what.

by Jake on 3/24/2008 @ 6:58pm
I am sure it is all complaint driven. Someone must not have liked you or they tripped, fell and turned you in..

by Erik on 3/24/2008 @ 7:35pm
Here's the link to the city LID program:


by jenyum on 3/24/2008 @ 7:42pm
Also keep in mind service industry employees in Redwood City make about 50k a year...

Little bit of a different tax base. Plus the whole city is more or less flat as a pancake and only a few decades old.

by ensie on 3/24/2008 @ 9:51pm
I am sure it is all complaint driven. Someone must not have liked you or they tripped, fell and turned you in..

If they tripped and fell, it would have been impressive feat, considering the lack of areas to trip over that were located on my old sidewalks (which you can see from the picture). Like I said, the assessment was done years ago, before I lived here.

I don't think it's complaint driven. According to the conversation I had with the person who took my money, the City sent out assessment teams years ago to evaluate the sidewalks. There are terrible sidewalks that are in all states of disrepair from tree roots that should have been priority in my neighborhood. I made a big deal out of paying the funds to replace the sidewalk in front of my house and spoke with various levels of supervision. That may have placed my house at the top of the list so I would stop "complaining".

Either way, Tacoma has higher priority sidewalks than those in front of my house to deal with.

by Voronoff-the-Ghost-Critic on 3/24/2008 @ 10:48pm
Let's paint all the sidewalks.