More than a year in the making, Metro Parks Tacoma is putting the finishing touches on what is officially known as its Mission Led Comprehensive Plan.
Sorry. Did I lose you?
OK, I get it. When anyone — and especially a government agency — starts talking about something called a Mission Led Comprehensive Plan, the natural response falls somewhere between an inadvertent yawn and a deep sleep.
Even the folks at Metro Parks realize this.
“It’s pretty dry to a lot of people,” Metro Parks public information officer Michael Thompson acknowledged.
But try to stick with me for a moment.
Metro Parks creates a Mission Led Comprehensive Plan every six years. The goal is to “identify what services and programs Metro Parks needs to offer, and in what parts of Tacoma,” Thompson explained.
This involves tracking demographic trends across the city and assessing which recreation needs are being met and which aren’t, then figuring out how to provide the most-complete schedule of programs moving forward.
And while you might not care about the state of children’s swim classes in Tacoma or the number of over-55 exercise offerings, the way Metro Parks arrives at these decisions reveals plenty about this place we call home — and what it might look like in the future.
The whole project is community based. Metro Parks is not going to make decisions of this magnitude in a vacuum.
Metro Parks Public Information Officer Michael Thompson on the importance of upcoming public forums
Recently, with the help of a consulting firm, Metro Parks surveyed more than 600 park district residents, asking a variety of questions to develop a list of priorities for the agency’s four quadrants, including areas of programming strength and weakness.
People in the Metro Parks northwest quadrant, for instance, want more swimming lessons for kids, while residents in the southwest quadrant want more outdoor adventure trips. The results of this survey, along with a comparison to the programs Metro Parks currently offers, will be discussed in detail at four community forum events this month.
But what is far more interesting is the evolving demographic information that has been collected. Like a predictive glimpse into Tacoma’s future, the data-crunchers have drawn educated conclusions about how Tacoma’s population is changing and what that will mean for Metro Parks.
In an exhaustive 83-page “demographic and trend analysis,” a picture of Tacoma’s future emerges. This year, Metro Parks will use this information, along with its survey results and its assessment of current offerings, to help finalize the Mission Led Comprehensive Plan — which will serve as a road map for the next six years of budget decisions.
So what might the future look like?
As Thompson, Metro Parks’ public information officer, notes, key takeaways from the report include the assessment that Tacoma’s population will experience “a rapid aging trend.” By 2030, the 55-and-older age group is expected to make up 31.2 percent of the total population.
31.2 percent The percentage of Tacoma’s population expected to be 55 or older by 2030
The report’s authors also say we will become a more-diverse population.
In 2015, the estimated population of people identifying as “White Alone” was roughly 62.5 percent. By 2030, that percentage is expected to drop to just under 56.
Meanwhile, the number of people identifying as “Black Alone” is expected to increase by 1.37 percent and the Hispanic/Latino population is expected to grow by roughly 4.4 percent, representing the largest growth of any ethnicity from 2015 to 2030.
The report found that from 2010 to 2014, the number of people with disabilities in Tacoma increased, and with an aging population, that trend is expected to continue. For Metro Parks, this likely means an added emphasis on therapeutic recreation and similar services.
When it comes to income, the expectations are mixed. The report indicates that by 2030, Tacoma will “experience a projected growth rate in median household income, average household income and per-capita income,” but residents will continue to have lower incomes than Washington State and the United States as whole.
We also will “have less money compared to surrounding communities to spend on recreation.”
The report diplomatically describes Tacoma as a “potentially income-challenged populous” - meaning Metro Parks will need to continue to work to keep programs accessible and affordable.
4.4 percent Expected growth in the Hispanic/Latino population
Much of this look into the future, of course, is speculative, based on currently available information and historical patterns. The report notes that “unforeseen circumstances … could have a significant bearing” on the validity of projections. (A zombie apocalypse, for example, has not been considered.)
Still, it is interesting to think about how much Tacoma might change in the next 15 years — and all of this provides food for thought. For Metro Parks, the projections are an essential part of trying to proactively deliver the programs that serve Tacoma’s ever-changing population.
You can call that a lot of things, but boring might not be one of them.
“It’s a funny dynamic,” Thompson said. “It’s a report. By itself, on the cover, it’s probably not going to sound too exciting.
“But it’s darned important.”
Upcoming Metro Parks Community Forums
6:30 to 8 p.m. Feb. 24
▪ STAR Center, 3873 S. 66th St.
▪ Center at Norpoint, 4818 Nassau Ave. NE
6:30 to 8 p.m. Feb. 25
▪ Portland Avenue Community Center, 3513 E. Portland Ave.
▪ Tacoma Nature Center, 1919 S. Tyler St.