Thursday, May 21, 2015

Downtown Olympia in context

One of the things that strikes me about the dialogue about downtown is how the people with different perspectives about it seem to talk past each other. One side seems to discount anyone's fears about being downtown. The other side discounts the other's want of a vibrant, real and therefore not necessarily clean and refined downtown.

I think one of the reasons for this is how each frames downtown. What context they put the oldest part of Olympia into.

1. For people who fear downtown, their context is literally other places they could go to buy things. The newish commercial westside. Lacey. Commercial area of Tumwater or Hawks Prairie. These areas also have bookstores, movie theaters and restaurants. They're convenient because there is ample free parking and people know what they're getting.

Downtown on the other hand is inconvenient and vibrant to the point of unknowing. You can't know what to expect, so you choose a more convenient option. There are plenty of places to go that aren't downtown, so they just go there.

And, when it comes time to think about downtown at all, the easiest thing to go to are the reasons not to go there at all.

2. For people who love downtown, they also think about it in context of the extreme local options. But, they also think about it in terms of the regional. Seattle and Portland are two remarkably great cities. And, are a lot of which Olympia strives to be, but on a more local scale. Downtown Olympia (and its nearby west and east side institutions) define Olympia for folks who like downtown. Olympia is the quirky little artsy city because we have what we have downtown. This is true even though the combined acreage of downtown and nearby neighborhoods is a small fraction of the North Thurston urban area.

These people are literally seeing different places.

2 comments:

nana/papa said...

We moved to Olympia ins 1975 in part because of downtown. Downtown was a key part of our living for 14 years, and now when we visit, it is a must with kids and grandkids. As they say it is the water.

If you like shopping malls they have them all over the world... even Salalah Oman so there must be something invitng about them.. We are quite sure what, however. Jack and Bridget O'Connell

Emmett said...

Right, I love and appreciate downtown as well. I try hard to make it down there as much as I can. That said, I understand the everyday choices that people make about different parts of town.

For example, you need to buy something quickly. Say, a bike helmet before dinner time. Do you pack everyone up and head downtown? Or do you do the same and head to one of two Fred Meyers?

The reasons you'd choose one over the other build the context around which you think about downtown.