Tacoma’s next generation of community builders is working now and thinking ahead.
At the end of this month, grass-roots civic groups Go Local and Local Life will stage City of Neighborhoods, a confab based on the principle that, as organizer Justin Mayfield puts it, real change grows up from the bottom.
“Well, duh,” I can hear you say, if you’ve been paying attention to Tacoma’s citizen-led transformation over the past 25 years. When city leaders failed in the fight against crime and blight in poor neighborhoods, residents demanded the tools to start the job themselves.
The work has been astonishing, and the people who did it are looking to next steps – and new people to add cool ideas.
Enter Mayfield and friends. They’re committed to making their neighborhoods great places to live, work, walk, shop and make even more friends.
If you’re thinking packing all those elements into one part of town should be a natural process, consider the years-long struggle to get a good grocery store on the Hilltop and any grocery at all downtown. Consider suburban strips and insular developments.
Mayfield, 26, was born in Tacoma. He moved back when it was cool, but still dangerous enough to be daring.
He learned lots about danger as a kid, not so much about cool, or what it’s like to live in a safe and healthy neighborhood. At 15, he left his family and got a job as a counselor at a Christian camp near Auburn. Assigned to read scripture to campers, he fell in love with the Bible.
Camp ended, and he stayed on as resident caretaker. He read books on theology, philosophy and everything by C.S. Lewis. When a friend invited him to a Zoe Ministries meeting in Auburn, he went, and saw the way back to Tacoma.
“‘Zoe’ is the Greek word for ‘life fully lived,’” Mayfield said. “Zoe is God for unique humans, artists, musicians, outcasts.”
He joined the ministry group, and started building his life. He sold knives door to door, then flooring. He made good money but still felt empty.
“I knew the world wasn’t complete,” he said. “I wanted to bring healing to it.”
He and his Downtown Tacoma for Zoe friends remodeled the old longshoreman’s hall and moved in to work in and for the neighborhood. (Now they live in a building off Tacoma Avenue.) That follows the tradition of Tacoma’s Catholic Workers, who built and support important social services. Baptists, Lutherans and many other faith groups joined in, picked up jobs and built effective programs.
“We had the feeling we were new in town and needed to listen,” Mayfield said.
They made connections with people who had the same idea and were doing it on their own. Mayfield worked with Tacoma Farmers Market and met merchants, bloggers and people who jumped into downtown life and the 253 pride push.
With the growing swirl of partners, Mayfield organized downtown block parties. Last year’s drew 1,500 people out of their apartments, condos, even shelters.
He bought Christmas trees from his mom’s tree farm in Gig Harbor and set up 25Trees on Tollefson Plaza. In his fourth year, he sold 400 trees, and the plaza got a skating rink.
Things like that, he said, turn a downtown into a neighborhood.
Business owner and Go Local co-founder Patricia Lecy Davis has come to respect Mayfield through his work.
“He’s definitely a servant-leader,” she said. “He’s not, ‘You need to do this.’ He meets people where they’re at. He walks alongside and finds out what the community is yearning for. Watching him grow and be that support person has been a real joy.”
Now executive director of Local Life, Mayfield is putting together this month’s City of Neighborhoods event, along with Lecy Davis and her Go Local group.
Veterans will share best practices of how to build cohesive neighborhoods, from block watches to barter markets. Mayfield and other members of the next generation will bring refreshing ideas and new energy.
It should be quite a day.
City of Neighborhoods
When: June 30, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Where: University of Washington Tacoma, Philip Hall.
How much: $20, or $10 for students with valid school or college ID.
Information: Go online to www.cityofneighborhoods 2012.com.