We’re (NOT) number one!

There’s some lists we don’t even want to be on

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

The city of Tacoma, to put it mildly, doesn’t get much respect.

Whether we, the citizens of Tacoma are portrayed as not-the-brightest, but reliably crude, fireman (as in Tacoma FD) or purely delusional and galactically untalented, yet transfixed by one’s inevitable “destiny” (as in Haters back off!), one can’t help but love the characters that some have chosen to portray those of us who find ourselves identified with our own city by the bay, or mountain or nearest internationally known bridge collapse.

One reviewer of Tacoma FD described it as “It’s raucous, it’s offensive, and it’s really funny!” For many of us, could there be a better summary of life in Tacoma?

Tacoma is a strange place in many ways, and unlike those towns that promote their “off-beat” attractions, from brewery districts to warehouse lofts to artisanal coffee shops and river walks, Tacoma doesn’t even have to try to be eccentric and unpredictable – it is hard-wired into who we are.

In Tacoma some of us care, and some of us don’t

From my experience, we have more than our share of people who care about, clean up and do good, productive things for our community.

I don’t know if we have more than our share of vandals, graffiti taggers and wandering car thieves, but they do seem to be working overtime leaving messes and ever-growing expenses in their wake.

Yes, Tacoma has the problems that every city seems to have, but we, as always, put our unique spin on everything from petty crime to homegrown artists and eccentrics.

One group of Tacoma-born and raised friends I know was thinking of phrases of the least popular causes/identifiers to put on bumper stickers or T-shirts. “I live in Tacoma” was, by far the slogan with the most passionate response.

Other cities have popular bumper stickers like “Keep Portland weird” or the various incarnations of the “I ‘heart’ my city” logo. Tacoma doesn’t even need slogans like “I ‘heart’ Tacoma” or “You’ll like Tacoma”. As most of us know all too well, just publicly acknowledging that we live in Tacoma says it all. And, for most of us, that implies far more than we’d like to explain or defend.

Who among us would have the nerve to post a “I live in Tacoma” bumper sticker on their vehicle? (And what might be the prototypical Tacoma vehicle? A 1990s SUV? An older, either rusted or totally pimped-out, Toyota?) Can you imagine posting that public statement on your vehicle while in Seattle? Or Gig Harbor? Or even Sumner? Or how confident would you feel leaving your car with that bumper sticker on it while parked in a comparably-sized, or larger city like Vancouver, BC, Spokane or Boise?

I see people in Tacoma wearing Seattle-based logos or slogans on their clothing all the time. How often do most of us see Tacoma-centered swag worn in Seattle?

Seattle, after all, is primarily recognized internationally for its music or its sports scene. What, in the eyes of the world, is Tacoma famous for?

We’re (NOT) number one!

Does Tacoma deserve such bad, often (but not always) exaggerated negative press and media portrayals? In some areas, at some times of day, maybe.

For better or worse, our reputation seems to be burned irreversibly into the consciousness of those around us – far and wide.

Across the entire state, Washington has 116 cities with a population greater than 5,000. After analyzing 2020 data on violent and property crimes from all these communities, one survey showed a per-person crime rate for each municipality.

Based on population (crimes per person), the city of Fife is actually number one. (Fife was number two in 2019.) Besides being a suburb of Tacoma, Fife is bisected by I-5, dominated by truck-stop gas stations, cheap motels and fast food chains, with an economy (and population) continually in flux.

Coming in at number two, according to this survey, is Tukwila, a King County city, equally dominated by the freeway, traffic, and easily the winner of the designation as Seattle’s worst suburb.

It would be easy to make the argument that a stable and safe city is clearly defined, one with limited public garbage, litter and disorder, where everything, from bridges to parks and most public spaces, and of course, private homes, are cared for and maintained. And, where a visitor clearly knows they have entered a distinct space.

A visitor passing through Fife or Tukwila, for the most part, will get what they need and keep going, with little in the way of anything like a distinct memory of the personality of the place.

Tacoma is third on this list.

Tacoma, of course, has its nondescript, freeway/fast food defined corridors. And neighborhoods tinged, if not saturated, by urban grime, trash and graffiti, but it also has neighborhoods pulsing with energy and purpose with an unspoken “Welcome” sign overhead.

Tacoma was rated as one of the country’s “most walkable cities” in 2006 – and in many neighborhoods it still is.

But when it comes to petty crime and the general level of grime, menace and mayhem, it’s hard to beat some sections of T-town.

Some cities have quasi-official maps, or even tours, of their crime scenes. As far as I know, Tacoma doesn’t have such a tour quite yet, but if you are so inclined, you can go on your own self-guided tour thanks to maps like this from Tacoma or Pierce County. Either way, unpack your tactical gear and round up your most squeamish out-of-town family members and get your own look at Tacoma’s seamy corners.