Monday, July 06, 2015

Community Development Practices - Defining Quality of Life

Quality of life – how do you define it and how do you measure it?

I spend quite a bit of time thinking about this question in my work as a community development consultant, working with communities all over the country who are unique and differentiated from one another in beautiful ways.

The optimistic part of me and the part of me that believes in some common universality within the human experience looks for important threads amidst all of that diversity.

Another part of me, the intellectual and philosophical, doesn’t believe we can make statements of objective or universal truth.

Even the image I have used at the top of the post reveals biases about what the artist thinks a quality of life is.

It isn’t that I don’t think there are universal truths, I just don’t think those truth's are ever objective truths, because our perspectives are always mediated through our own or someone else’s experiences and privilege. The bias of the mediation, the others or our own, shape our perspective in ways that can’t be divorced. No one is ever “speaking objectively”, whether I agree or disagree with them.

Something may be VERY true for me, but without a doubt, I will meet someone who can’t affirm that same truth. Still, I’ve never met a person – no matter how different – that I could not find one or two threads of commonality. In the midst of this dance is the art of community development work.

So in my work I try not to run too quickly to the common threads.

I’ll admit it can be hard, both because of timelines and also because of the way my mind works – moving quickly to synchronizing and looking for common elements. I’ve made many mistakes in this regard and I have to work hard to not make them again. I work hard to put my own biases on the table and to always be aware that I speak from a particular vantage point that cannot be separated from my privilege, fears, and personal pain.

So, I have to slow it down - listen deeply and allow for people to be heard.

Often my work is done in the context of community or neighborhood planning, where one of the tools we use is the process of creating an outcome based evaluation tool that starts with creating a baseline for the resident perceptions of the quality of life in the neighborhood.

That baseline is used as a way to prioritize community needs to be addressed by the coalition (usually residents, community groups, the city, etc…). As the work continues, we then re-survey the same residents over time and are able to see whether the quality of life is improving based on the standards that they set.

One of the most interesting parts of this process is getting to the definition of quality of life so that we can even create the baseline survey.

It is true, that the more homogeneous a neighborhood, particularly when it comes to socio-economics, race, and culture – generally the quicker quality of life definitions are arrived at. Still, in very homogeneous communities there can be deep divides around other areas of differentiation. For example single people, partnered people with no kids, and partnered people with kids might have very different priorities around issues affecting children in their neighborhood.

In communities with a great deal of socio-economic, racial, or cultural diversity – the quality of life definitions and perceptions may seem downright antithetical to one another. Yet, in these circumstances, with skilled facilitation, and mature and committed participants, I have often seen how people who seemed to be forever a part were able to come to consensus as they found a deeper understanding of their own perceptions and those of their neighbors.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not pie in the sky about any of this. Sometimes diverse communities aren’t able to come together.

Sometimes an effort breaks down because there isn’t enough common ground.

Sometimes the scope of a project gets limited to what can be agreed upon and often that is much less than everyone one was hoping for.

Sometimes factions break out that end up working for entirely different visions in the same community. That is also the beauty of grassroots advocacy in a democracy, the choice of differentiating, with each working and advocating for their vision in the public square.

Regardless, generally people gravitate towards very common issues related to quality of life in their community. Things like safety, beauty, economic opportunity, appropriate and affordable housing options, access to food, access to recreation, and many other things. In fact, there are studies and theories that put forth common elements of quality of life - the problem is still in definition of what those mean and how to get there.

The difficulty begins when you try to come to a common definition of something like safety or a consensus on how to create safety.

It is difficult, because an individual’s sense of safety is a very subjective and personal thing. While we might be able to find some threads, those particular differences are often held closely, emotionally, and tied deeply to personal experiences that are hard to question.

What IS common for all of us is that we think about and are invested in our quality of life. We all have the desire to live in a community that supports and reflects that definition of quality of life.

What I have found helpful is the process of examining my own definitions of quality of life.

Where do they come from? What definitions are most different from my neighbors and why? Are there any of my definitions that seem unreasonable? What are my non-negotiable (essential) and what are simply my preferences, but negotiable? On an issue of difference, what is the CORE concern I have – what is the ROOT fear I have that drives my perception?

Spending some time doing this self-reflection work better prepares us to engage in community development work with others. It also helps our awareness of what might be going on for others around their own definitions.

I encourage us to take the time to ask our neighbors some of the questions we’ve asked ourselves, so that we don’t assume we know where their opinions come from, but rather get at the root of their perspective and its genesis.

None of this is magic. But, the process of defining quality of life with our neighbors is a powerful tool that deepens our understanding of our differences and also creates an opportunity to find threads of commonality with which to build consensus in moving forward.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Walk Tacoma - Museum Walk & Kid Walk - Wednesday July 15

Mark your calendars for July 15th. There are two great events brought to you by Downtown On the Go and their various partners – Walk Tacoma Museums and Family Walk. Detailed information below about both events from a press release put out by Downtown on the Go.

Tacoma, Wash. – Come downtown to experience the Museum District on Wednesday, July 15 at noon for the Walk Tacoma Museum/Family Walk.  These two concurrent walks have something for every age.  The 1.8 mile Museum Walk, led by Council Member Robert Thoms, will showcase our downtown museums with stops at the Children’s Museum of Tacoma, Tacoma Art Museum, WA State History Museum, Museum of Glass, and LeMay America’s Car Museum. 

The 1 mile Family Walk, geared toward children elementary school age and younger, will include fun activities for kids, a visit by Rhubarb, goodie bags, and a ride on the Tacoma Link.  It will be led by Dianna Kielian, Sr. Vice President for Mission with Walk Tacoma series sponsor CHI Franciscan Health.  The Museum/Family Walk, sponsored by the Tacoma Rainiers, will start outside the Children’s Museum at S. 15th & Pacific Avenue.  There is no need to pre-register for the event, simply join Downtown On the Go at the meeting spot. 

Downtown On the Go will be collaborating with the United Way of Pierce County and the Children’s Museum of Tacoma to offer the Family Walk.  “The museum is so excited to be a partner in the Museum/Family Walk again this year.  We love to see young families exploring downtown Tacoma and enjoying all of the great parks, museums, and sites that our city has to offer,” said Brenda Morrison, Tacoma Children’s Museum Deputy Director.

Walk Tacoma 2015, sponsored by CHI Franciscan Health, is a nine-event walking series held on first and third Wednesdays, from April through August. The fun, themed walks, now in their sixth year, encourage people to enjoy downtown on foot by introducing new walking routes and sharing information about the community and its history through the guided tours. The walks are scheduled at the lunch hour and just after work to encourage downtown employees to walk during their workday, whether it is to and from work or at a lunch break.

Log your walks on the Trip Calendar at to earn prizes and be a part of the 24,859 mile community challenge to Walk Around the World.

For more information on the full Walk Tacoma Series or the Walk Around the World campaign, visit or find us on Facebook orTwitter.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Resident Engagement this Week - Be Informed, Give Input, and Have Some Fun!

All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.

That phrase is actually an old proverb, but you probably know it as the sentence that Jack types over and over again during his psychotic break in the movie The Shining. If you are the literary type, you might remember the phrase shows up in Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur.

Well, don’t worry, nothing that heavy or scary here - just a full week of ways to have fun and to “go to work” as an engaged citizen in downtown Tacoma.

Because, all play and no work make Tacoma a dull place.

Bike Train: Bike Me Out to the Ballgame
June 24, 2015 at 5:30 pm

​The Bike Committee is going to bike train from downtown to Cheney Stadium to watch the Tacoma Rainiers play the Reno Aces. The game starts at 7:05 and anyone who bikes to the game gets a special ticket rate of $11.50, which gets you a seat, a hot dog, a bag of chips, and a bottle of water.  Just tell them at the ticket counter that you biked to the game. If you want to join the bike train, meet at S. 11th and Pacific Avenue.

ST-3 Tacoma Open House
June 24, 2015 at 5:30 pm

Good and plenty of public transit is an important factor for a thriving urban region. You can show up at this open house and give your input to The Sound Transit Board on which projects they should study as final candidates for the ST3 public vote that could be happening as soon as November 2016. The presentation will begin at 6 pm and the open house will take place at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center at 1500 Broadway.

Public Hearing on Draft of Paid Leave Rules
June 25, 2015 at 10:00 am

You have probably heard by now and I will likely be writing more about this soon, but beginning  in February 2016, Tacoma employers will be required to provide up to 24 hours of Paid Leave annually to employees within the City of Tacoma. You can read about the paid leave rules and regulations that have been drafted for review at You can attend the public hearing, and provide your feedback at the Tacoma Public Library Main Branch – Olympic Room at 1102 Tacoma Avenue South.

1st Annual Tacoma Waterfront Crab Feed
June 25, 2015 at 5:30 pm

If you are allergic to crab, well, I feel really bad for you and you definitely shouldn’t go to this event. But, for the rest of you – strap on your bib and join the Tacoma Waterfront Association (TWA) this Friday for the first ever Waterfront Crab Feed fundraiser at the Foss Waterway Seaport at 705 Dock Street.

Beyond eating all the crab you can, there will be chances to bid on or win prizes at the silent auction, raffles, and a ring toss. This fundraiser will be an opportunity to highlight Tacoma’s waterfront and the community and businesses within it. The event will feature prominent figures in the waterfront speaking to the latest activities and plans for the future of Tacoma’s waterfront. This fundraiser will help TWA continue its mission of making the waterfront enjoyable and accessible.

You can get your tickets now at:!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Pop-Up Art Putt! in Downtown Tacoma

It’s finally here – the U.S. Open Golf Championship has come to the 253. For many, the anticipation has been building for years.

There has been word of Tiger Woods sightings as he played some practice rounds in the weeks leading up to the tournament. Some are hoping that practice might lead to a Tiger return to glory. It seems doubtful.

Others dream of a local boy like Michael Putnam or Ryan Moore coming out of nowhere to win their first major. That also seems unlikely, but would be really cool.

Whatever happens with the actual golf, we are all hoping for a nice economic boost for the city, county, and region. We can anticipate the world will fall in love with the pure aesthetic beauty of the course and its surroundings, as they watch the tournament unfold later this week.

I will not be heading out to Chamber’s Bay for the tournament. I’ve never played the golf course because, well, I’m terrible at and easily frustrated by the game of golf. Why pay all that money to be pissed off and when I can enjoy the course and the view for free by walking the trail? I’ll track the tournament and the coverage on T.V. this week.

If I actually grab a golf club this week, it will be to play something a little more my speed – like the Pop-Up Art Put mini golf course being brought to downtown Tacoma by the Tacoma Art Museum (TAM) and the Tacoma Arts Commission.

Ten local artists have been commissioned to create ten sculptural miniature golf holes for a course that will span TAM’s Paul G. Allen Family Foundation Plaza, Tollefson Plaza, and the Prairie Line Trail.

You can get your club, golf balls, and score cards at the TAM and when you are finished playing the course you can vote for your favorite artist-designed hole. Unlike Chamber’s Bay – this course is FREE to play.

As the first day of play is winding up at Chambers Bay, the party will just be getting started at the Pop-Up Art Putt course in downtown Tacoma.

The Opening Party for the exhibit will be this Thursday June 18 from 5-8 pm. You can dance along the course to tracks spun by a live DJ. There will be food trucks along the course and of course a beer garden, because this is Tacoma.

Come on – go ahead and check this out! This is one hell of a cool idea. Bravo TAM and Tacoma Arts Commission!

Pop-Up Art Putt! Hours will be…

Thursday, June 18, 5 pm – 8 pm
Friday, June 19, 10 am – 8 pm
Saturday, June 20, 10 am – 8 pm
Sunday, June 21, 10 am – 4 pm

New Tacoma Awards 2015 Nominations Open

Each year the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber works with the downtown community to recognize outstanding individuals, organizations and events.  Well, it is that time of year again.  

Next month, on July 10th, downtown standouts will be honored at the New Tacoma Awards luncheon.  Last year's award recipients include:

Ghilarducci Award: Foss Waterway Seaport’s Rehabilitation
Popham Award: Justin Mayfield of Downtown Block Party
Public Places Award: Downtown On the Go’s Walk Tacoma
Schoenfeld Award: Tinkertopia
Union Station Award: Children’s Museum of Tacoma 

For more on last year's recipients:

Who will be nominated to receive the awards this year is up to you.  Nominations are now open:

If you love what someone is doing downtown, nominate them for an award:

  • Popham Award: Building community spirit

  • Schoenfeld Award: Retail/Restaurant pizzazz

  • Ghilarducci Award: New development or renovation

  • Union Station Award: Building momentum for revitalization

  • Public Places Award: Activation of a public space
The online nomination form can be found

Monday, June 08, 2015

I love trains.

I just took the Amtrak down to Portland a few weeks back for a work trip. It is my favorite way to travel to PDX, which I do for work and pleasure at least a few times a year. Portland’s walk-ability and transit system also make it really easy to be without a car.

You may have heard by now that WSDOT will be breaking ground on the new Amtrak station at Freighthouse Square this next year and that new station is schedule to open in 2017.

Parts of the plans for the new station include a clock tower that WSDOT and the Citizens Advisory Committee on the project have hopes will be an iconic addition to the Tacoma landscape.

The proposed clock tower will stand 80 to 90 feet tall and be located on 25th Street, in front of the Freighthouse Square building and across the street from the commuter parking garage.

Whenever someone uses the word iconic – I’ll admit I get a little nervous.

Not because I’m against iconic structures. No, in fact, I think iconic design and architectural elements are an important factor in a community’s identification with its city.

I get nervous because sometimes what gets produced in the service of iconic is something ugly, something out of place, something that isn’t functional, or something that is trying entirely too hard.

I’m not an architect or a designer, but like most of you, I know when something works and doesn’t work. It’s a fine line – trying to create something iconic

In some ways there are a lot of things out of the control of the designers and decision makers that end up making something iconic. Sometimes it is just about timing. Sometimes it’s about the cultural evolution of a place that can’t be anticipated in the moment.

Interestingly enough, we already have an iconic structure in the vicinity of the new Amtrak station – the Tacoma Dome.

The T-Dome is a good example. I’m not sure anyone would call it attractive and in fact many people might call it an eye sore. Nevertheless, it is iconic and you can’t think about the Tacoma landscape without calling to mind the dome.

The structure itself is iconic and that doesn’t even take into account the history that it holds. I wore out my Sonic’s T-Shirt that had the Tacoma landscape worked into the Sonic’s logo from their time playing in the Woodshed in the 1994-95 season. That’s just one of my many favorite pieces of T-Dome history.

One of the things that will make the Tacoma dome even more iconic (in my opinion) is the Warhol Flower being painted on the top of the dome. I know that everyone doesn’t share that opinion, but what I like about it is that it takes something that is already a known quantity and connects it even more deeply to a significant part of our identity as strong artistically oriented city.

Plus, it takes a bit of a risk – which sometimes is needed when trying to create something iconic.

WSDOT put a call out for residents to weigh in on three proposed designs for the clock tower. Today was the deadline for input. I will be interested to see what the feedback is.

I won’t get into the proposed designs, but if you want to read more about them you can check out Matt Driscoll’s article in The News Tribune. Like Matt, I think the clock tower is a good idea, but I’m not sold on any of the current designs either.

Here is the thing about creating something iconic – you can’t let the limitations get in the way.

There are plenty of potential limitations – cost, the limitations of the location, and trying to meet particular deadlines.

Taking a risk is not the same thing as settling for something less the desirable because we lack the will, the imagination, and the determination to create something that really works.

I vote that we take our time.

Matt points out that City Councilman David Boe (an architect) has some ideas, including a city run open design competition – after all Tacoma is full of many great artists, designers, and architects that I believe have the capacity to imagine something that will indeed be iconic.

In my opinion it would be worth the time and effort – let’s get this right.

If at this late hour you still want to weigh in. You can access the survey here - online survey .

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Spaceworks Tacoma - Activating Space

Activated space.

It’s one of the most important elements of community development and neighborhood revitalization. It’s importance is understood by both high level urban planners and grass roots community organizers. It speaks both to architectural design and the importance of third spaces for people to gather, and it speaks to everything in between.

In Tacoma we have an inventive and robust effort that understands the importance of activated space - it’s called Spaceworks Tacoma.

Spaceworks is a partnership between the City of Tacoma and the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce that is designed to activate empty storefronts and vacant spaces in the city with art and creative enterprise.

Property owners donate their vacant spaces and Spaceworks makes those low-cost temporary spaces available to artists, entrepreneurs, organizations, and community groups who transform those spaces with creative business, art installations, short term community based projects, or pop-up events.

Spaceworks also provides training, professional development and technical assistance to the participants in the program. 

Have you seen a Spaceworks installation around town? Have you visited a Spaceworks business? Have you attended one of a plethora of creative events and parties held in a Spaceworks activated spaces?

If not, what are you waiting for? They are all around you - in the downtown neighborhood, the Hilltop, the 6th Avenue corridor, and throughout the city.

On June 3rd from noon - 1pm, Spaceworks Tacoma will be highlighted in the Walk Tacoma series for 2015. Spaceworks is hosting a free, guided Public Art Walk that will be lead by Public Art Specialist Rebecca Solverson with the City of Tacoma.

This particular art walk will be 1.5 miles and will explore the local public art and murals found throughout the Hilltop neighborhood. The walk will start at People’s Park on S. 9th and MLK Jr. Way.

One of the more whacky and fun projects that Spaceworks will be involved with is in partnership with the Cartoonist League of Absurd Washingtonians (CLAW) and Downtown on the Go (DOTG).

CLAW has their Open Swim event tonight, May 27th, 7:30 pm at King’s Books. DOTG is sponsoring this open swim event by providing ten blank white bike helmets to be drawn on and decorated by attendees.

The plan is to have the decorated helmets serve as a traveling exhibit for DOTG to be orchestrated by Spaceworks. Rumor has it these helmets might end up on the heads of some well known Tacoma personalities during the Downtown to Defiance event in September. Finally, the helmets will be auctioned off and the proceeds split between DOTG and the CLAW Student Scholarship Fund.

Now that is some creative partnership if you ask me.

The thing about activated space - it is both a function of the space itself and the people that populate it. Spaceworks is doing it’s part. Let’s do ours and populate these spaces with our presence and our dollars.