The Nose

The Nose: No need for Prozac to help our city overcome poor self-image

Dear Tacoma, we don’t know how to break this to you gently, so let’s get straight to the point.

You have an oversized civic inferiority complex that’s fast becoming unhealthy. It’s deeper than a South 21st Street pothole, taller than a rotting totem pole and thicker than a polluted plume wafting from the Tideflats.

For years, you’ve worn this hangdog reputation like a jester’s cap, showing flashes of mock outrage about your second-class-city status, then laughing it off.

You take wry satisfaction in those old promotional pictures that say “You’ll Like Tacoma,” resigned to the idea that outsiders could never actually love you.

We played along with it for too long, figured it was just a shtick to attract chicks from Seattle who dig the aw-shucks Jimmy Stewart type.

But the latest psychoanalysis shows a downward trend that has left us seriously alarmed.

A bitter pill to swallow: Every four years, the city hires a consultant to do a survey assessing how residents feel about Tacoma. It measures quality-of-life indicators such as safety, mobility, government services, community participation and outlook for the future.

The National Citizen Survey then measures Tacoma against more than 500 benchmark communities, from Abilene, Kansas, to Yuma City, Arizona.

One of the questions the survey asks is how Tacomans view the city’s image — and in 2014, only 27 percent (!) of them looked at it in a positive light. That’s a smaller percentage than in 2006 and 2010.

Out of 282 communities that were asked to rate their image, Tacoma ranked No. 272. Translation: Only 10 communities thought lower of themselves.

And out of 15 cities most similar in size and demographics, T-Town ranked No. 14.

We’d hate to visit the one place that feels more inferior than Tacoma does.

That would be a real trip to Downersville.

Now, for the intervention: We know it hurts, Tacoma, but we decided to do this because we’re your friend, your muse, your confidante. Some might even say we’re your alter ego in the guise of a disproportionate cartoon body part.

It doesn't matter how many museums you build, you can’t use them to hide your emotional scars.

It doesn't matter how many pot shops are licensed, you can’t smoke away the pain.

Now is the time to hear what your citizens are saying about you. Then you can take gradual steps — baby steps, as famous psychiatrist Dr. Leo Marvin would say — to escape the basement of low self-esteem.

A representative sample of 717 residents completed the 2014 livability survey, which found that:

• Only 40 percent had positive views of Tacoma’s overall safety. Only 37 percent felt good about the city’s cleanliness. These are much lower marks than comparison cities.

These things are not unrelated. Take it from us: People will feel safer if you scrub up a bit, wash under your arms and overpasses.

• Only 48 percent felt positive about air quality. Men felt better about it than women, by a score of 51 percent to 45 percent. Then again, most men don't have the finely tuned proboscis of Snores Truly.

Here’s a morsel of encouragement: Since the old pulp mill furnaces were shut down, you smell better than you look.

• 11 percent responded positively about street repair. That’s 349th out of 352 cities that were asked a similar question.

Our first reaction: Who the (bleep) are the 11 percent who actually feel good about city street conditions?

But we — like you, Tacoma — must learn to channel our inner Zen. Let us stop thinking of those desolate pits of broken pavement as potholes. Let us think of them as windows to the city’s soul.

On the bright side: Your marks are low but improving in overall quality of life as well as related categories such as “place to retire” and “place to raise children.”

And 95 percent of citizens said they recycle at home, much higher than the benchmark. Tacoma also busted the curve in the number of people who use public transportation and carpool.

So you get brownie points in the save-the-planet categories. Don’t you feel better already?

In conclusion, never forget that the world is full of Eeyores and Tiggers. Choose to be a Tigger.

Keep your chin up, Tacoma, and ignore the media’s glib municipal stereotypes.

And just be thankful you’re not Federal Way.


The Nose