When I was recently interviewed on the radio about rising rents in the metropolitan Tacoma-Seattle region, the discussion predictably included affordable housing and transportation. At one point, the interviewer pivoted and we discussed cities “losing their souls.”
That question made me pause because it is often means rapid growth and miserable traffic. If you unpack the issue, the soul of a city is about its people and how the place they live makes them feel.
Are they embraced or made to feel like outsiders? Is it easy to become part of the social, cultural, economic and political fabric of their city? Will change improve their livelihoods or will it compromise their privilege? Does the natural and built environment bring them joy, sorrow or fear? What impressions do visitors have of the city?
To answer some of these questions, Tacoma spent six months getting community input to form Tacoma 2025, our city's vision for the next decade.
The recent debate about the proposed methanol plant was about more than climate change and family-wage jobs. It was also the reflection of a city fighting for its soul.
I describe Tacoma as an international waterfront city that is now a leader in education, the arts and environmental stewardship. We also have a blue-collar history that is part of our DNA and a natural deepwater port that is vital to our regional economy.
We are part of the global economy with strong ties to China, our largest trading partner. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. and China are responsible for nearly half of carbon emissions worldwide, making us the largest contributors to climate change. We American consumers have an insatiable appetite for cars, airline travel and products made in China, often with plastics.
The recent debate about the proposed methanol plant included fact, fiction, exaggerations and claims. Some people supported the project, some opposed it and many wanted a full environmental review so the benefits and risks could be fully vetted.
One important question that went unanswered was whether it was possible to use wastewater in the manufacturing process. Another consideration was the estimated $25 million of new annual revenue the methanol project would have brought to the city.
Several potential beneficiaries never saw the light of day: creation of an affordable housing trust fund; the hiring of more detectives, police patrol officers and firefighters; dedicating more funds for street repair and funds to replace polluting woodstoves; making a possible annual contribution for Click Network's all-in option for high-speed Internet; and renovating the Tacoma Dome (with a flower design on the roof).
It's time to move on and look to the future. Working together, this city dreams big and does great things. We built the University of Washington Tacoma in a dilapidated warehouse district. We boast more museums per capita in the U.S. than anywhere outside of Washington, D.C. We consistently fund our public schools and parks. We are improving the Lincoln and South Tacoma neighborhood business districts.
More people choose Tacoma every day. We are expanding light rail to the Stadium and Hilltop neighborhoods. And if all goes well with Sound Transit 3, we can look forward to light rail to Sea-Tac Airport. Point Ruston is now a residential, retail and recreation destination. More than 350 projects are currently under review in our permit department.
All of this progress has happened with the presence of a deepwater industrial port and heavy industries in our city, including an oil refinery, a foundry, a pulp mill and a proposed liquified natural-gas plant.
As we look to the future of our city and port, we must ensure that the visions for both are in synch. The port's role must be more than protecting its own interests. We must ensure that communication is proactive, robust and a true dialogue. The interaction must provide a safe place for diverse viewpoints and have credibility based on facts. Most importantly, the participants must reflect the entire community, not just part of it.
If we are willing to have constructive, inclusive dialogue, we can help make our port more competitive, grow our base of good-paying jobs and protect our environment. These goals are not mutually exclusive.
Are there businesses with proven growing demand that are willing to make significant capital investments, provide family-wage jobs and do minimal harm to the environment? Will they be long-term tenants and generate revenue to help us invest in our community?
Let's come together to answer these questions and help chart a course for our port that builds on the work of Tacoma's 2025 vision. The soul of our city depends on it.
Marilyn Strickland is the mayor of Tacoma.