Tacoma has been city of unrealized destiny for too long

Tacoma News TribuneDecember 29, 2013 

I had the opportunity recently, to stand before Tacoma’s City Council and share my vision for Tacoma.

I was competing for Councilman Anders Ibsen’s vacated seat. All the candidates were asked to define and propose solutions for Tacoma’s most pressing problems.

Most, if not all, candidates focused on issues like development, attracting businesses and jobs, infrastructure and Tacoma’s city budget. Those are all urgent as well as enduring issues.

As you might imagine if you have read my previous columns, I have a different and, I believe, far larger view.

As important as jobs are, and as annoying as potholes are, they are not the real issue. The real issue for Tacoma now, and perhaps for most of our city’s history, has been our sense of shared identity and destiny.

A few weeks ago I showed my students a wall-size map of Tacoma and had them write about what they saw.

They, perhaps like most of us, could only see and write about their own neighborhoods. None of my students wrote about the big picture of Tacoma — its variety of neighborhoods, its expansive views in multiple directions, its remarkable and unique parks (from Blueberry Park, to Point Defiance and Swan Creek, among many others) and beautifully rebuilt or remodeled schools.

Like most people, they focus on immediate, and known, problems more than abstract, and perhaps distant, possibilities.

And they forget that basic rule of physics: A body (or city) at rest stays at rest, and a body (or city) in motion stays in motion.

Inertia is our biggest enemy. Tacoma can (and has) come together to face common problems. We can do it again.

One thing I know for sure: Tacoma has nothing, besides itself, holding it back.

As I mentioned to the City Council, Tacoma’s story is mostly one of unrealized potential. Our problems are pitiful compared with our assets. Potholes are (relatively) easy to fix, and even a large debt can be effectively addressed — if we only had the will, determination and vision to address them. But neglected potholes and debts only get larger.

I was born in Tacoma, my daughter was born here and now my two grandchildren have been born here. As they grow, travel and meet people, I want them to be proud and pleased about being part of this community. I want my grandchildren to have opportunities to prosper here. And if they leave, I want Tacoma to be a good memory.

This reminds me that all of us are members of a relay where we pass our decisions, dreams and legacies to future generations just as we literally inhabit the decisions, dreams and architectural legacies of previous generations.

As one example, I’d like to see a coalition of community groups, faith communities, parents, schools and neighborhood groups across the usual political, ethnic or demographic lines come together to address persistent problems, such as the high school dropout rate, gangs, graffiti or teen homelessness.

I knew I had a near-zero chance to be chosen for the City Council (it picked a highly experienced and competent lawyer — and I’m glad they did; Tacoma is facing many extraordinarily complicated legal issues in 2014), but I did want to take my stand on what I see as Tacoma’s most pressing problems.

And I wanted to encourage others — students, friends and neighbors, among others — to step up, participate, and make their voices and concerns known.

In fact I would urge everyone to at least consider a New Year’s resolution to become more involved when it comes to local and neighborhood issues by writing a letter to the editor, taking part in a neighborhood watch group or joining one of the many neighborhood councils.

Never forget that our neighborhood, our city and, yes, our infrastructure are what we make it.

Tacoma has been the city of unrealized destiny long enough.

M. (Morf) Morford of Tacoma is a former reader columnist. Email him at mmorf@mail.com.

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