LAST NIGHT: Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland’s “State of the City” address

By Zach Powers on February 1, 2011


Last night Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland gave Tacoma's first ever "State of the City" address. The speech culminated what seemed to be an overwhelmingly successful Shift Happens event at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center, organized by the good folks at Go Local (see this week's cover story for the full scoop on Shift Happens).

Mayor Strickland stressed the specific importance of Shift Happens and Go Local, but appropriately used most of the address to highlight the city's recent efforts and future plans to continue to improve the quality of life and economy in Tacoma.

Like a typical State of the Union, successes were magnified and shortcomings downplayed. Mayor Strickland sang the praises of Tacoma Metro Parks, calling it one of the best park systems in the nation, and even ventured to call the Tacoma Police Department's work with local neighborhoods "progressive."

The highlight of the address came when the Mayor did what she does best: share her hopes and goals for a more sustainable, progressive Tacoma. Strickland has pushed programs and created exploratory committees designed to heighten Tacoma's commitment to education, local business and the arts. Every time I hear Strickland speak on her vision for Tacoma - whether in a written speech given from podium or casually in conversation - I'm left inspired.

The pride Strickland takes in Tacoma's present and future was evident as she shared national awards and recognition the city and local businesses received in 2010. Likewise, her excitement was genuine when she spoke of plans to continue to develop downtown and make Tacoma an "attraction" to conventions and tourists.

The only pause-worthy portion of the address came when Strickland lauded accomplishments that are basic requirements of all city governments, such as maintaining city streets. It could very well be that 194 streets repaired is an impressive feat, but without the same statistics for previous years or percentage improvements, I wasn't prepared to applaud random numbers, making me a minority for this (albeit very brief) portion of the speech.

The large crowd (nearly every seat was taken) reacted enthusiastically to both policy changes and efforts to improve the aesthetic of local neighborhoods. The largest cheers were reserved for the mention of the recent business-friendly adjustments to the B&O tax, but were almost matched when Strickland shared her goal of having the most community gardens per capita of any city in America.

If only for one night, in the confines of the convention center, Tacoma truly did seem like a city on the cusp of transforming itself.

Before Mayor Strickland spoke I visited the many dozens of booths set up by local businesses. I imagined a Tacoma where instead of Best Buy, Stadium Video was everyone's first stop for the latest DVD release. I pictured a Tacoma where instead of Starbucks, more of us stopped at Satellite Coffee on our way to work. I even pictured a Tacoma where instead of Wells Fargo and Merrill Lynch, more of us relied on local financial planners and banks (at one booth I was given intriguing 401(k) advice, even after telling the charismatic investor that student loans pay my bills).

I don't know if that Tacoma is actually the Tacoma of the future, but for two hours Go Local and Mayor Strickland had me convinced.

Here's hoping.