Morgan's Brain

Oct. 8, 2008 at 12:10pm

Lunch, Politics, and Tacoma's Future

Recently, I was invited to join a group of civic minded folks over lunch and a discussion on Tacoma's past, present, and future.

One of those in attendance, a long-time community advocate, is exploring running for mayor next year. I'm not sure if he wants to go public yet, so I am not revealing his name. Here's a hint though: it's not David Boe. Based on our conversation though, I think he has a deep understanding of Tacoma's past and present, but can also effectively communicate a vision for the city's future and engage residents in the process.

My perspective:
While I grew up here, I - like almost everyone I went to school with - moved away after college. I've been back for about four years now. As a result, I am unaware of some of the community activism that has occurred in the recent past. Efforts like saving Union Station and Albers Mill, the construction of I-705, and more recently the Murray Morgan bridge.

Present concerns are of course on keeping Russell, but also about keeping companies like Brown & Haley, infrastructure (like roads and streetcars!), increasing community engagement, and... the Murray Morgan bridge.

What I am curious to know is if there is interest today in defining Tacoma's future at the grass-roots level. From what I can tell, it's been over 15 years since Tacoma residents were engaged to produce Neighborhood Plans - a State mandated document (part of the city's Comprehensive Plan for the Growth Management Act). There were some great results that came out of those discussions: neighborhood councils and business districts were established, and general visions were created for the neighborhoods. But is there interest in taking it to a higher level?

For example, Neighborhood Council funding has remained virtually unchanged since inception (by the way so has funding for the Arts Commission). While other cities have increased investment in their neighborhoods, Tacoma has not. I've heard some concern that the neighborhoods are not responsible and are barely able to handle what funding it currently gets. I think this is a lame excuse and does not get at the heart of the matter. If there is concern that the neighborhoods don't administer funds responsibly, then maybe they should be taught how to do so - it's called capacity building and Tacoma could use a bit more of it. But I digress...

I put it out to you:
What do you want for the city's future? Are you ready to work with others to define it?
(please no pothole comments - we get it already!)

comments [5]  |  posted under future, lunch, no potholes, politics, tacoma


by scout on 10/8/2008 @ 3:18pm
This question seems to be asked by the city at least every six months; people take the precious little time they have as small business owners, students, and those with busy family lives to participate

What I have found as a participant in focused community input requests regarding what is wanted/needed in Tacoma's various neighborhoods and business districts is that if people don't like what I say I am ignored. The other thing is these attempts to define Tacoma's future at the grass roots level or otherwise at best can only come up with generalizations that have been defined over and over again - we want safe, thriving, diverse neighborhoods that people want to live; we want a safe, vibrant, and diverse downtown that people want to visit and where businesses will invest their money.

The problem is that Tacoma appears to lack the leadership to make these things a reality. Otherwise the city would have accomplished some very basic things that would have contributed to making the neighborhoods realize what its citizens have already identified e.g. building height limits, a coherent parking plan, getting rid of the B & O tax, and making decisions that directly impact the downtown core.

by Erik on 10/8/2008 @ 7:53pm
What do you want for the city's future? Are you ready to work with others to define it?

1. Crime reduced down to a comparable rate with other Washington cities

2. The social fabric restored and stability downtown and in more of the neighborhood mixed use centers.

3. Vacant historical buildings restored.

4. Blight reduced by 90 percent

5. Enough people living in urban areas to support more local businesses including restaurants.

6. Cancerous "dead zones" downtown and throughout the city such as:


by Mofo from the Hood on 10/8/2008 @ 9:21pm
The Main Library Northwest Room has some City produced booklets on citizen participation for economic development. E.D. is one of those programs that require individual self-discipline to prepare oneself to be useful. My limited participation, due to lack of discipline, has been group experiences that usually welcomed all opinions. The exceptions would be people that consistently complain and don't suggest possible ways to solve a problem.

But regarding scout's comment about being ignored by people who don't like the suggestions offered; I think sometimes people just don't know how to respond. Also, if one is a pretty forceful speaker, then others may either back down or else be emboldened to amplify the merits of a topic.

I tend to think that if one guy really had a dream of, let's say running a hot dog cart at Tollefson Plaza, and he really needed support and funding from a neighbor council, and he explained his reasons and he illustrated his plan with drawings and photos and all; then that one guy, through persistent endurance would eventually wear down the opposition and go on to victorious splendor in the plaza.

Or take Erik's number 4 wish listed above: Blight reduced by 90 percent. Let's define blight as abandoned cars in overgrown grass vacant lots. A 90% reduction might be accomplished in 12 months if one abandoned car was towed every day. That's 365 junk cars removed in one year. That's an easy task because junk cars are in demand from guys that will haul them at a phone call's notice. No cash outlay needed from the caller.

Overall it's often one guy or a small group that generates some significant change in the landscape.

by jcbetty on 10/9/2008 @ 12:55am
I want people. I want livability. I want community. Most of these things, I see regularly when I'm out and about downtown, and I feel these things in my own 'hood, in the kid's school, and in the shops I frequent.

But what I love, love, LOVE, is when I see downtown streets teeming with people the way they do during festivals or free museum nights or Tall Ships. I love to see Tacoma vital, and yet I'd hate to see Tacoma as congested as Seattle.

I guess what it boils down to is let's get people downtown, period, the same way they used to be BTM (before the mall.) --Whether it takes good streets, bike-friendly commuting, more shops, More farmers markets, more restaurants, more urban dwellers, more economic growth through new job-creating business, or all of the above (and a city government to enable and encourage that)...

Well, hell. bring it on.

by fredo on 10/9/2008 @ 8:15am
Morgan@ Good topic.

I've been to lots of neighborhood council and business district association meetings. One thing I've noticed is how infrequently a variety of diverse opinions will be presented. Most groups are dominated by an individual I will call a "super influencer". Once the SI presents his/her opinion the discussion comes to a virtual halt and if a vote is taken then the position of the SI wins, usually unanimously. This dynamic creates an unproductive paucity of counter positions. This is harmful to the democratic spirit and frequently leads to incorrect decision making.