What do we want our communities to look like?

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

It’s the ultimate question, even though most of us just assume that cities or neighborhoods look the way they do by some divine inevitable dictum.

That may be because so many of our cities look the same; busy main streets with the same big box stores, chain restaurants and residential neighborhoods that look much the same no matter what city – or even part of the country you happen to be in.

But it doesn’t have to be this way – cities are made by human designers and policy makers. Building codes and transportation vectors are designed, built and used by people. And as we all know, sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t.

Do we want South Puget Sound – from Fife to Olympia – to look like one extended strip mall packed with car lots, malls and parking lots?

I have talked to too many people who have driven up from Oregon or flown into Sea-Tac and, based on what they see from I-5, have absolutely no reason to stop.

Oddly enough, as I-5 goes through Seattle, you have stunning views of the bay, the Olympic mountain range, a view of a glistening (mostly new) architectural marvel and maybe even a sunset.

The comparable view, as I-5 passes through Tacoma, if you can see past the cars around you, is mostly seemingly eternal construction and detour signs, the Tacoma Dome and bridges.

If, as we all know, a key element of real estate is that  semi-elusive concept of “curb appeal”, Tacoma has some work to do.

Curb appeal may be hard to define, but it could be described as that unforgettable, ineffable first impression. And, as with individuals, you never get another chance to make a first impression.

It seems that every week, some magazine or travel network "discovers" Tacoma. Some of us knew it was here all the time. Photo: Morf Morford
It seems that every week, some magazine or travel network “discovers” Tacoma. Some of us knew it was here all the time. Photo: Morf Morford

I have heard it said that Tacoma is an acquired taste –  you have to learn to like us.

I think that is mostly true – Tacoma has many stunningly beautiful parks, nationally recognized innovative schools, and more than its share of architecturally  and historically appealing neighborhoods. But you have to spend time to see them. We have parks and views unlike any other place, but they are not really bucket-list tourist destinations.

Our attractions simmer – they rarely boil.

We have all heard the saying “a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there” – I think Tacoma is the opposite – a great place to live, but is it a great place to visit?

Yes, I know Tacoma and the South Sound have an abundance of attractions, but most of them take an investment of time. We have very few immediately accessible “must-see” attractions.

Mount Rainier is breathtaking up close, but it’s an all day proposition. Few visitors from Tacoma make the trip (even though it is a longer drive, more tourists visiting Seattle put Mt. Rainier on their itinerary).

Our challenge will be what it has always been – protecting and keeping what is appealing while being willing to share it with others who also appreciate what we have here.