Change is coming to Proctor, but that’s nothing new

Tacoma News TribuneApril 22, 2014 

Conceptual drawing shows proposed mixed-use development in the Proctor District.

BCRA

Tacoma’s Proctor area is a neighborhood of quiet streets, well-trimmed lawns, restored vintage homes and genial neighbors.

But there’s a tremor building. Something far more extreme – with vastly more long-standing repercussions than any natural catastrophe, something that threatens to set neighbor against neighbor: change.

The Proctor District is not a museum or historic district, it’s a commercial area within a larger residential neighborhood. It is a model of walkability, filled with small and independent businesses, and a thriving Saturday farmers market.

And this is the center of a storm.

Every neighborhood and city changes. But for the most part, at least in our imaginations, the North End hasn’t. And that is precisely why many of us live there.

But change is definitely coming, and The Proctor apartment development won’t be the last, and it certainly won’t be the worst.

The reality is, changes have always been coming. You don’t have to look very closely to see that the dominant buildings in the Proctor neighborhood were built over many decades, in many sizes and styles.

Some critics complain that the proposed apartments will be too cheap, or too expensive. Many don’t want apartments at all. But most complain that the building is too big.

The Ray Gamble building (home of Knapp’s) was “out of scale” for the neighborhood in 1929. Does anyone remember the complaints about the remodel of the (much smaller) McCormick Library, now known as the Wheelock Library?

And what about the rehab and expansion of Washington Elementary? Or Mason?

As always, how we face, or even define, our changes says more about us than about the changes themselves.

North End residents are usually informed, engaged and reasonable. But like all of us perhaps, when we believe something we love is threatened, we react on an emotional level. And there’s a time for that.

I’ll be as sad as anyone to see the texture of my neighborhood change. But I also know that change is inevitable. In fact, no thriving neighborhood has ever been static; stagnation and apathy are a community’s worst enemy – not passion or investment. And I’d far rather see changes guided by the hands of those with a history and a stake in the neighborhood.

I also know that any other neighborhood would love to have a “problem” like this. Gauzy fantasies of the past are as enticing and misleading as grim mirages of the future.

Would any of us want to go back to the 1980s and early ’90s when the Metropolitan Market building stood abandoned, most storefronts were shuttered and our beloved Blue Mouse was a porn theater?

I have no financial stake in The Proctor development, but I do have a long-standing relationship with the neighborhood. I love it, and I am convinced that those supporting this development also love it. I believe that those who fear or criticize this project also love this same neighborhood.

We all know that our neighborhood today – in fact, every neighborhood – will not be the same tomorrow. Those who inhabit these streets in the future will value every investment we make in the vibrancy and vision of our neighborhood.

That just might be what I love most about the Proctor neighborhood; it is filled with people who love it and are willing to step up, protect, care for and invest in it.

Even when we don’t agree, we can each feel safe and respected and maybe, just maybe, many years from now we’ll remember what was gained and what was lost, and even what was learned.

Differences like this can tear neighborhoods apart, but how we face our challenges makes us, and our neighborhoods, far better than any of us could imagine.

My greatest hope is that those of a generation or two from now will look back in thanks and deep appreciation for what we did with them in mind, just as many of us appreciate what previous generations built and preserved for us today.

M. Morford (Morf) of Tacoma, a former reader columnist, is a member of the North End Neighbhorhood Council. Email him at mmorf@mail.com.

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