Construction cranes in Tacoma – they’re not just downtown

Love them or hate them, construction cranes are in almost every neighborhood

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

If you drive through downtown Seattle on I-5, you can’t help but notice the preponderance of building cranes and massive construction projects going on. On most days, as I’m passing through I can count at least twenty at a time, in a single view.

At one point in mid 2019, there were about 60 at work in the downtown area.

My first thought was “Why are there so many in Seattle and so few in Tacoma?”

As you may have noticed, many of those same construction cranes have in fact moved to Tacoma.

Not as many of course, but also not in the same way.

As I mentioned, most of the construction cranes in Seattle are in the downtown or South Lake Union area.

In Tacoma they are all over. You can see construction cranes in residential areas, along major thoroughfares (like 6th Avenue) and in districts as varied as Lincoln and Stadium, and from downtown to Point Ruston.

Photo: Morf Morford

Photo: Morf Morford

Seattle is far more centralized than Tacoma. Tacoma, in terms of power, potential and development is far more sprawling and decentralized.

Major construction projects could be anywhere in and around Tacoma. And they are.

You won’t see twenty construction cranes at a single glance in Tacoma, or even ten, but you’ll see one and then another one and then another one.

I called Tacoma’s Public Works office to see if anyone had a tally on how many were at work in Tacoma in December of 2019.

They said they didn’t track such things, but my guess is that there are at least fifteen around town as I write this.

On my way to work I saw at least three and I know of several more.

Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness.  – Frank Gehry

My focus is on building/construction cranes. I am not counting the multiple shipping cranes constantly at work at the Port of Tacoma – even though they all have one very important characteristic in common; each crane represents a major project, which in turn, represents investment, many jobs and a practical hands-on contribution to the future of Tacoma. 

Projects of this scale take years, if not decades, to move through planning, coordinating, construction and completion. The variables are many – and at some points seem to be expanding and multiplying instead of diminishing as the project continues.

Each construction crane is a manifestation of thousands of decisions, approvals, discussions and final go-ahead on a vision that has congealed and that has faced – and to a large degree survived – obstructions and obstacles to become a finalized monument that, one hopes, will stand for decades if not more -preferably far more- and will define the community both to itself and outsiders.

We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.  - Winston Churchill

Neighborhoods will never be the same after a major construction project, and some, like Point Ruston, have been created literally from the ground up.

The crane temporarily frames the mountain.    Photo: Morf Morford

The crane temporarily frames the mountain. Photo: Morf Morford

Construction cranes are, by definition, temporary and defined by their projects.

Shipping cranes are close to permanent, but their job is the same; putting their mechanical muscle to work building the community and the structures we all live, study, play and work in.

It is not often that Tacoma has a building boom as we have in the past few years – perhaps once in a lifetime – but its living legacy will be part of our identity long after its builders have passed on.