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All of a sudden we look around — Thoughts on the Theme — August 2021

It’s like Chatham Strait writes in his article about the Evergreen State ferry moored at the Port of Olympia. The boat is daily decaying at its berth, but to us it looks the same as it looked 66 years ago.

Incremental, day-to-day changes escape our attention–until all of a sudden we look around and everything has changed.

Like Olympia. Turn to page 4 to hang out for a moment in an Olympia where 4th Avenue was alive with food, music and socializing. Or check out page 6, where people indulge in recalling things that made Olympia unique—before there were Starbucks, Capital Mall and dollar stores.

Back then (1990) the majority of households in Olympia owned their own home (52%). Forested land covered 55% of Thurston County. A bit earlier, kids waded in Capital Lake and there were boat races. The Olympian was a local paper. The skyline was a silhouette of evergreen trees.

As noted by Mark Scheibmeir in more than one of his decisions approving new market-rate apartments, there are “dramatic changes downtown.” A new “Urban Waterfront” zone is bringing high-end apartments to line the edges of Budd Inlet. The city is investing millions in street-scape improvements and providing incentives for investment in “market rate” mixed-use projects in hopes of attracting a clientele who will spend to support new businesses.

By 2019 the proportion of renters vs homeowners had flipped: Olympia is now a majority renter town (53%). City policies ensure that the proportion of renters will increase. The new residents will not be the ones benefiting from the rising price of housing—they will only be subject to rent increases and potential eviction.

The proportion of forested land dropped to 46.5% in 2016 and continues to fall. Developers have been permitted to cut acres of mature trees. The proposal to develop a subdivision at Green Cove included eliminating a quarter of the 10.400 mature trees on the site (read the saga of community success at Green Cove on p.7) . In the meantime, we have programs to encourage kids to “fight climate change” by planting trees that will take 30 years or more to mature (see Community Spotlight).

Here’s what Olympia’s leaders wrote about the city in the 2014 Comprehensive Plan that guides development in the city:

Olympians want to feel connected to each other and to our built and natural environment. We want to live in a friendly and safe community where we know our neighbors and shopkeepers, and run into friends along the sidewalk. We value harmony with nature, thriving small businesses, places to gather and celebrate, and an inclusive local government.

This year, the staff of the city proposes to amend the Comp Plan to eliminate the term “neighborhood character” or define it by these generalizations: accessible, sustainable and culturally inclusive. Next time you look, will any of those qualities named in 2014 be present?

Finally—let’s name the elephant in the room: climate change. It’s missing from these pages, just like acknowledgement of it is missing from our policies. All of a sudden we’ll look up and see that it’s here.

This issue is my last as Managing Editor of Works in Progress. It’s astonishing that this paper has successfully relied on volunteers to do most everything from submitting stories, graphics and photos to producing a recognizable newspaper delivered by a team of dedicated distributors—for 30+ years.

Lori Lively will become the Managing Editor, responsible for finding and nurturing stories that are neglected or misinterpreted and producing the paper each month. I’ll be around as a member of the Publishing Committee and contributor. I hope you’ll be here too.

—Bethany Weidner

Upcoming themes

September. Back to school. In every way you can think of. Deadline: August 15.

October. Reap what you sow. It’s a metaphor for harvest, elections and more. Deadline: Sept. 15

Nov-Dec. Gimme shelter! It’s a winter theme, but check out the lyrics to the Stones’ recording. Deadline: Nov 10

About the cover

It’s hot and the water is cool and wet!  A new spray park in Olympia’s Westside has become a gathering place for people from nearby neighborhoods. From toddlers to elementary schoolers and up—that’s the action in Woodruff Park this summer. There’s a picnic shelter, restrooms and trees making enough shade for folks to spread out for picnics. It’s the kind of place where kids make new friends and grown ups meet neighbors they might never have encountered though living just a few blocks away. It’s also the kind of place that will be increasingly important as climate change brings repeats of the 110 degree temperature that hovered over our towns in June.

Photo by Lori Lively


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