Rethinking growth, as Tacoma sees big changes | KNKX

Rethinking growth, as Tacoma sees big changes

Sep 11, 2019


Cities, by and large, want to grow. But with growth can come new challenges.

Seattle and San Francisco, for example, saw a housing crisis emerge as the tech boom sent the cost of living sky high – leading many middle- and lower-income residents to feel priced out.

Tacoma is experiencing some of those pressures, too. But Ali Modarres says the city has an opportunity right now to avoid big problems other communities have seen as they’ve grown.

“I see massive levels of change,” he said. “And this change can be done in a sustainable manner, it can be done in a Tacoma way as opposed to a generic way.”

Modarres is director of the urban studies program at the University of Washington Tacoma, and has spent years studying how cities change and grow, how they sometimes get it wrong, and how Tacoma might be able to do it the right way. He and KNKX All Things Considered host Ed Ronco went for a walk in a neighborhood near the Tacoma Dome.

I see massive levels of change. And this change can be done in a sustainable manner, it can be done in a Tacoma way as opposed to a generic way.


On how cities tend to grow: “It tends to be condo-driven. It seems to be retail on the first floor, and then we have more and more of the same kind of cookie-cutter style of development. The one thing Tacoma can do is begin to avoid that, purposefully. Given its history, given its knowledge of its communities, it has to be a city in which the focus is not entirely on money and the new people – it is on money, new people, and the people who have been here.”

On his first impressions of Tacoma: “I couldn’t understand I-705. Every piece of the built environment wants to tell you a story, and 705 told me a story, and that is: There must have been a time in downtown Tacoma that things were in a particular way, that the good people of Tacoma decided to bypass it by building a freeway. It was an avoidance of downtown, the way I saw it. Also, the civil engineers to built I-5 they were not nice to Tacoma. … We are the world of visibility now. We can go beyond the built infrastructures of the 20th century and shine. And I think what makes Tacoma unique is it’s ready for its moment.”

A view of the Tacoma Dome near an Interstate 5 and Interstate 705 interchange.
Credit Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

On displacing longtime residents: “As we begin to think about light rail and its extension, we know that in many cities light rail has been the instigator of gentrification and instigator of community changes. This is the moment for us to begin to invest in the very neighborhoods the light rail will touch. 

We can't succeed by displacing. We will have more money, but we won't succeed.

"We do not want to create a condition in which one group of people is replaced by another just to show us that we are prosperous now. We can’t succeed by displacing. We will have more money, but we won’t succeed. We need to be supporting these small businesses who are there for us in the hard times. In the prosperous time they need to be there as well, because it is as much their place as ours.”