Olympia could use some free downtown advice

The OlympianDecember 22, 2013 

There aren’t many obvious similarities between New York City and Olympia, other than each resides on the northern reaches of opposite coastal regions. But when the Big Apple’s former mayor offers a high-powered consulting service to help reshape other cities — for free — it’s something worth pursuing.

The New York Times reported this weekend that Michael R. Bloomberg, who leaves office after 12 years this month, is forming an organization called Bloomberg Associates that “will act as an urban SWAT team, deployed at the invitation of local governments to solve knotty, long-term challenges.”

The former mayor is spending his personal fortune to help improve city government. He has hired about two dozen of his City Hall staff, including the head of the city’s tourism department that presided over unsurpassed annual increases in visitors.

Over the years, the city of Olympia has paid consultants to advise it on how to make its historic downtown core more appealing and less crime-ridden. Most recently it spent almost $100,000 on consultants to help develop a renewal plan for the city’s most blighted areas.

It’s a long shot, but the city’s chronic downtown problems of crime, homelessness and property blight might appeal to Bloomberg’s new consulting group looking to replicate big city successes in a smaller community. The city of Olympia should at least enquire.

Perhaps to unbiased eyes of an external team, Olympia’s solutions will seem less overwhelming. Or at least we’ll have some assurance that the problems can be solved with the right mix of political will and community resources.

We’re not advocating the application of any specific tactics employed in New York City, such as the controversial stop-and-frisk policy, but the Bloomberg administration did have measurable success in reducing the crime rate and turning blighted areas into attractive public spaces.

According to Politifact. com’s “Truth-O-Meter,” Bloomberg’s claim that he made New York the safest city in America has some merit. The website found New York, in 2011, had the lowest crime rate per 100,000 population of the nation’s 25 largest cities. It also had the second-biggest crime decrease, at minus-62 percent, among the same group from 1995 to 2011, falling behind Los Angeles by only 2 percent.

Violent crime in downtown Olympia and hard-core drug use, in particular, remains the city’s most pressing social problem and is a deterrent to many citizens. What parent feels comfortable taking their child to the downtown library knowing heroin addicts have been injecting themselves in the public restrooms there?

These issues are not unique to Olympia, of course; Seattle also has a serious downtown crime problem. So do Spokane and Portland, and nearly every other major city. That’s all the more reason to seek out advice and best practices whenever possible, especially when it’s available free of charge.

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