Tacoma isn’t Seattle, and that makes it remarkable

Tacoma News TribuneMarch 2, 2014 

Perhaps it’s human nature, but most people I know in Tacoma have an exaggerated sense of identity based on what we don’t have instead of seeing what we are.

There are many things I love about Seattle; the 5th Avenue Theater, Seattle Art Museum and the Pike Place Market are just a few. But if I lived in Seattle, would I go to them any more than I already do? In fact, if I lived in Seattle, would I go to them at all?

I get the feeling that the accumulated everyday pressure of traffic and parking would make me want to stay home and hide out.

But besides that, I, and the vast majority of my friends and family, could not afford to live in Seattle – even if we wanted to.

But would we even want to? Could most of the people I know have the life, the home, the access to quality schools and parks if they lived in Seattle?

The obvious answer is no.

Seattle has many unique and wonderful attractions, but it strikes me as a very difficult city to live in.

I love many the many attractions in Seattle; but I’m always glad to head for home.

In Tacoma, in most neighborhoods, it is quiet and green, with ample free parking, and you can see the stars and breathtaking views of Mount Rainier or the Olympics. Where else could you take a short drive (or even bike ride) to an uncrowded beach or park?

And Tacoma is small enough that almost anyone could run for public office or attend meetings of the City Council or Pierce County Council.

I am on my local neighborhood council and have met most of the City Council members (and the mayor) several times. Could an average citizen with no clout do that in Seattle?

Where else but in Tacoma could a citizen columnist like myself, with no affiliation and even no agenda, have a continuing forum?

Tacoma holds remarkable opportunities that won’t be found in many larger – or even smaller – cities.

Pierce County stretches from Mount Rainier to Puget Sound. What other county has a world-class national park on one end, two ferries which go to two separate islands (Anderson and Vashon), two major native reservations and one of the largest military bases in the world?

Pierce County has more geographical variation and altitude difference than most counties, many states and even several countries.

I am not terribly interested in what is right – or even wrong – with Tacoma. In Tacoma, for better or worse, almost everything (and everyone) is in reach and few things are as fixed and immovable as almost everything seems in Seattle.

In short, Tacoma is a human-scaled place, a place where things can get done, inertia is not necessarily paralyzing and an average person can make a difference.

In many cities, things seem stuck or impossible; Tacoma, in many ways, is a blank slate.

There is no question here of which is “better”; I love Seattle, Olympia, Bellingham and Portland and a few other places, but Tacoma, for me and many others – some born here, some transplanted – is home.

Tacoma has its share of in-groups, silos and obstructionists, and perhaps more than its share of wanderers, cranks and eccentrics. But in the midst of all this, I find myself the ultimate reluctant civic booster.

I’d like to initiate a campaign which emphasizes what Tacoma is not; Tacoma isn’t boring, Tacoma isn’t predictable, Tacoma is not all the same, Tacoma isn’t what it used to be, and Tacoma is not what it could be. And yes, Tacoma is not Seattle.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

M. (Morf) Morford of Tacoma is a former reader columnist. Email him at mmorf@mail.com.

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