Tacoma and Seattle are among the worst-run cities in the whole country

It’s always a good idea to look beyond the headlines

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

It’s the kind of headline no one wants to see.

But at the same time, it is a surprise to nobody.

We in Tacoma are accustomed to bad press.

We expect to be negatively portrayed on Seattle-based media companies – or even our own.

And even the national media once in a while.

But Seattle has been the media darling for decades.

From its music scene to its tech giants to its waterfront and art community, Seattle has long been a magnet for young entrepreneurs and recent college graduates.

But a drive through downtown Seattle, or even a cruise down I-5 without getting off the freeway will give you a glimpse, or even an up close and personal view of a city in trouble.

For years Seattle was at or near the hottest real estate market in the country. For those on the positive side of the real estate ledger, the prices and profits were intoxicating. And for those on the negative side, like renters or investors caught on the wrong side of a business deal, foreclosure or bankruptcy or worse, were always an option.

We who live in, work or know people and places know that the big picture is often very different from the detailed and specific lives we live – and the situations we encounter.

Even when we aren’t dealing with a global pandemic, supply chain problems, economic uncertainties, and paralyzed and polarized political climate, running a city is a challenge far beyond most of us.

The larger the city, the more moving parts it has, the more conflicting priorities and constituencies it has, the more complex it becomes to manage – or even control.

And then factor in budgets. And staffing.

No matter how (or where) you look, it won’t be a pretty picture. The bottom line in Tacoma, and yes, Seattle, is going to be ugly.

Homeless camps, city budgets, community engagement and municipal morale are all leading indicators of deep-rooted problems.

WalletHub compared the operating efficiency of 150 of the largest U.S. cities to reveal which among them are managed best – and worst. (https://wallethub.com/edu/best-run-cities/22869)

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Tacoma and Seattle don’t look very good.

At least we’re better than Houston on quality of city services

And Akron. And Fresno. And Philadelphia. And Milwaukee. And Baltimore. And Detroit. And about 50 other American cities. When it comes to quality of city services, Seattle came out at number 18 – just behind Portland, Oregon at 17 (and San Francisco at 16). Tacoma was 102 on this category.

On 38 primary criteria, Tacoma came out at 139th overall, out of 150 US cities. So…we’re better than 11 cities on the list. Seattle was 118th overall.

WalletHub analyzed six core categories: 1) Financial Stability, 2) Education, 3) Health, 4) Safety, 5) Economy and 6) Infrastructure & Pollution.

Each category was divided into metrics which were graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the highest quality of service.

Then they looked at the “Quality of City Services” score by the “Total Budget per Capita” (dollar amount) in order to construct a “Score per Dollar Spent” index.

In other words they looked at the services provided and what we pay for them.

The most important elements of community are difficult, if not impossible to measure.

Confidence in public officials, a sense of safety walking down (or even driving through) a crosstown neighborhood (or even one’s own) is a barometer of a community’s health – and future – more than any urban financial spreadsheet.

With the recent rash of shootings and the persistent (and highly visible) presence of homeless “camps” Tacoma and Seattle were not about to get a good grade on any urban scale.

We are not alone, and we can certainly do better.

The answers that other cities use may, or may not work for us.

When it comes to homelessness, for example, Finland has a program to eliminate homelessness in five years (you can see the details here – www.siceurope.eu/countries/Finland/ending-homelessness-finland).

Whether or not other cities move up on scales like this, we must and we can.