What brought you here? What keeps you here?

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

In March of 2018 the Puget Sound Regional Council conducted a survey of 2,000 local residents as they sought a resident’s eye view of where we want to be – or avoid being – in 2050. (1*)

Perhaps like most people, I am a bit sceptical about what new information is derived from surveys like this.

Like many surveys, I believe this is one that primarily confirms what we already knew – most of us (22%) like – if not love – the natural environment and see that as their favorite aspect of life here in the Pacific Northwest.

Would you believe that 12% saw the weather/climate as what they like best about living here?

Image courtesy  Puget Sound Regional Council

Image courtesy
Puget Sound Regional Council

I have visited several other cites around the country and what is so striking to me, a born and bred Northwesterner, is that yes,  other cities have their appeal – and perhaps cultural or career opportunities the Northwest may never offer, but like others who grew up here (or took root here later in life) I take it as an essential – not a luxury – to step out of my work pace and look at some trees, wander, or even just sit, at one of our parks, especially one as vast and varied as Point Defiance, and watch the wind blow through the trees or the tidal waves gently lap the gravelly beaches. Almost immediate access to silence and green refuge are two of my anchors of sanity in a world dense with customer or schedule demands, technological learning curves and seemingly endless screen time.

I love the culture and economic buzz of major cities, but sometimes I just need to get away from it. When I mention this to friends or colleagues who have never lived here, they just stare at me.

They have become accustomed to the only refuge they know – the distractions of noise, alcohol and even more screen time. And sleep.

That is when I realize what a luxury I have here. And that is why I, like so many others, fight so hard to keep what we have – and fight even harder to keep our area from looking and feeling like those bland and busy strip mall packed look-a-like cities that seem to define our country.

11% of us consider access to outdoor recreation our prime motivator for living – or staying – here.

We in Pierce County have an abundance of large and small parks and of course water in different forms – lakes, rivers and Puget Sound nearby.

This beach is just few minutes walk from the west end of 6th Avenue.                                   Photo: Morf Morford

This beach is just few minutes walk from the west end of 6th Avenue. Photo: Morf Morford

The bottom part of this chart should not surprise any one either.

Very few move here to further their career ambitions. Shopping and restaurant options here are adequate but rarely spectacular.

We have diversity here, but it is easy to miss. Especially in Pierce County, but also in Seattle and King County, diversity is deep and rich and embedded in our history and identity, but you have to look for it. And it is easy to avoid if you want to.

5% say that the people here are the primary reason they stay here. To put it mildly, 5% is not very many.

I could not begin to count the people I know with roots or extended family connections many miles from here.

Most of them seem satisfied – or even happy – about the distance they have put between themselves and their families.

According to the survey, 65% of us look at life in the Puget Sound area positively, while 35% measure their quality of life as average, poor or even very poor.

Answers like that make me want to ask more questions; if one out of three people dislike it here, why are they here?

Who are these people? Are military people temporarily stationed here? Did their work, family or spouses bring them here? Why do they stay here?

Like many who grew up here, I could not keep track of the hundreds of people who endlessly complain about the weather, or the economy or the culture here. I always want ask them why they stay here.

I’m not sure I want to know, but I get the feeling that they don’t know either and would probably complain about any other place as well.

But perhaps what brought you here and what keeps you here are two separate questions.

Military stationing, job transfer or birth are probably the main avenues for arrival here, but I’m guessing that most people stay for quite different reasons.

Inertia is probably the primary reason most people stay. Family is probably second.

If 35% measure their quality of life as average, poor or even very poor, that means more than one out of three residents is dissatisfied or even miserable here.

I must admit that I get that feeling sometimes; I mean the sense that the person across the counter, or in the grocery aisle or waiting in line next to me or in the car in front of me just plain does not want to be there.

If you take a closer look at the chart above, it makes a bit more sense. 45% like best our weather, our terrain and natural environment or outdoor recreational opportunities.

In other words, almost half of us would  rather not work, shop or spend time around people we don’t already know.

And we didn’t even bring up the obvious opposite questions; what do you dislike most about this region? Or, as I would put it, what makes you crazy about living here?

I think most answers would be essentially the same – traffic and the ever-increasing cost of housing.

The irony of course, is that more and more people keep moving here. Over 1,000 move to the Seattle area each week. That’s equal to adding the population of the city of Bellingham in one year (http://kuow.org/post/seattle-area-grew-so-much-last-year-we-grew-bellingham).

I just wish the people who don’t want to be here could change places with the ones who really do want to be here.


(1*)    You can see the full 2050 report/projection here – https://www.psrc.org/sites/default/files/eb2018apr-pres-vision2050.pdf.