Transforming Tacoma – by design

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

Tacoma’s mayor, Victoria Woodards wants to make Tacoma “an anti-racist city.”

To put it mildly, it’s an interesting goal.

Achieving any long-term durable goal is difficult enough.

Moving in the direction of “anti-racism” – especially within the parameters of a city the size of Tacoma, with as complex of a history as we have to the flow of people, ideas, business trends and priorities, this seems like a challenge for the ages.

The mayor’s focus is what she calls the “Heal the Heart Tacoma” initiative, Resolution No. 40622, affirming the city council’s commitment to “comprehensive and sustained transformation of all the institutions, systems, policies, practices and contracts impacted by systemic racism.”

There are many reasons why I never went into politics, but a statement like that is most of it.

At least she didn’t use mind-numbing terminology like “whereas” (whereas is usually placed at the beginning of a legislative bill. It means “because” and is followed by an explanation for the enactment of the legislation. Whereas is often used in official proclamations to project the solemnity of the occasion, see an explanatory note on “whereas” at the end of this article).

In other words, like “affirming the city council’s commitment,” “whereas” sound important, takes up space and communicates almost exactly nothing.

Does “affirming” mean suggesting? Advocating? Bringing treats when everyone agrees?

I’m no fan of racism, and I think it could not be more obvious that racism is literally embedded, sometimes subtly and sometimes blatantly, in housing (especially lending, HOA covenants and red-lining) not to mention education and hiring practices.

Tacoma, like many cities, took the easy way when it came to claiming desirable properties; it just took them. Or paved over them.

But either way, the populations, some for centuries, if not millennia, were dispersed or eliminated.

Whether you want to consider local Native people, Chinese or Japanese or several others, where we once had rich communities and thriving neighborhoods (not to mention surging fish-stocks among many other natural resources) we now have freeways and developments that look like they came from a master plan from Anytown, USA.

From the Chinese Reconciliation Park to the Port of Tacoma/Puyallup Tribe settlement of several years ago, we occasionally recognize the intrusion and dominance, if not destruction of what came before.


There’s an old saying in the design of urban landscapes for those with disabilities – design for disabilities is a design for all.

A ramp instead of a staircase welcomes baby strollers, skateboarders, those who take tiny steps and those who take giant steps. And, of course, wheelchairs or other medical mobility equipment.

Architectural barriers are rarely designed to BE barriers, they (mostly) just end up that way because no one (apparently) imagined that any approach other than so-called standard would be required.

Our mayor went on to say, “If we really are going to fix systemic racism, we have to look at every system that produces barriers.”

As with architecture, every system from bus routes to water lines or building codes “produces barriers” – and they aren’t just racial.

In and around Tacoma, no barrier is greater than the lack of affordable housing. High-quality, desirable and conveniently located homes are just plain not available for many of us.

Tacoma, like most American cities, is absolutely car-centric.

If you don’t use a car, getting across town, or even a few miles away, in a timely and safe way can be, at best, a challenge.

Mix in a disability, illness or a child or two and you have a near impossibility.

Is that a “racist” barrier? Perhaps not, but it certainly is a barrier.

Much of Tacoma is what is called a food-desert; a neighborhood with no basic grocery store with-in walking distance. (But somehow, by some miracle of modern marketing, there is usually an abundance of fast-food places).

Nationwide, about 6 million of us live at least a half-mile from the closest grocery store – and of these, 2.5 million homes are in low income areas.

Is this “racist” urban design?

It might not have been intended, but it often is.

In 2019, nationwide 19% Black households, and 16% Latino households, experienced food insecurity.

What if, instead of tax-abatement programs for housing, we had tax-abatement programs for grocery stores (and other services) where there already was housing?

Our mayor’s plan is as laudable as it is necessary.

My problem with this resolution, as with most resolutions, is that, besides being laudable and necessary, it is vague.

Goal Setting

How do you know when or if you are moving toward – or even away from – the goal?

When I was a teacher I often incorporated goal-setting in my classes.

The best system I found was very simple – in fact it was SMART:

S – Specific

M – Measurable

A- Achievable

R – Relevant

T – Time framed

Goals need to be specific, measurable, achievable and relevant and, of course on a time line.

There is no doubt many city policies from zoning to law enforcement need to be “transformed” (I could not count the many barriers I have run into in Tacoma) but transformation needs to be specific and defined.

Any barrier to one of us is likely, eventually a barrier to all.

What if we made every neighborhood (through zoning or tax-abatement programs, among other things) desirable by any standard; walkability, access to parks, proximity to grocery stores and bus stops.

Not all of us have, or want cars.

And even if we do, that might not be true in a few years.

Somehow the emphasis on housing has turned into yet another scheme that benefits developers and existing property owners, while exacerbating segregation, sprawl and car dependency.


WHEREAS. This word implies a recital, and in general cannot be used in the direct and positive averment of a fact in a declaration or plea. Those facts which are directly denied by the terms of the general issue, or which may, by the established usage of pleading, be specially traversed, must be averred in positive and direct terms; but facts, however material, which are not directly denied by the terms of the general issue, though liable to be contested under it, and which, according to the usage of pleading, cannot be specially traversed, may be alleged in the declaration by way of recital, under a whereas. Gould, Pl. c. 43, Sec. 42; Bac. Ab. Pleas, &c., B. 5, 4; 2 Chit. Pl. 151, 178, 191; Gould, Pl. c. 3, Sec. 47. – A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.