Where did your last road trip take you? What was your favorite trip memory? A road trip isn’t simply the beginning and end; it is a journey that a group takes. It is made of memories, the flat tire changes, the scenery and the people met along the way. Sometimes it takes longer than planned, but in the end, we usually get where we wanted to go.
The city of Olympia is on a road trip -- the journey from vision to reality. Unfortunately, Olympia has spent so much time plotting the course and trying to find the best route that it has yet to get the car out of the driveway. We pack our bags with a plan in mind, then change the plan and have to repack again and again. Olympia has forgotten that the road trip isn’t always about taking the perfect route, but the journey you take to get there. It is rich with the memories you make as a group moving toward a common destination.
While some would say that Olympia is a divided community, it really isn’t. Everyone in Olympia has the same vision: for it to be a world-class city. Where we have struggled is agreeing on the route to get there. Some say the route is I-5 south, to Portland, while others look north to I-405 and Kirkland.
Olympia should draw ideas from other cities; but it should not define itself by others’ standards. What makes Olympia great is that it is unique. We have a beautiful state Capitol, views of multiple mountain ranges and bodies of water, all from the same city.
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We must be willing to compromise and put this car in drive. Olympia is struggling to afford all the dreams it has. We want the scenic byway, but we don’t have the money to take that route. We want parks for families, services for the vulnerable, views to be protected from development, better infrastructure and a safer downtown for all. It is hard to argue against the merit in taking the scenic byway, but sometimes, you need to make compromises on any journey.
Until Olympia has a healthier budget, we need to be willing to pass on some costly parks to pay for social services and infrastructure. We need to be willing to create new partnerships and spend public money to see our downtown change and thrive. We need to be willing to work with developers in strategic locations to create a more walkable and sustainable city. We should take the scenic road when we can and the interstate when we need to.
What if we focused on one thing that everyone wishes was in a better state? Downtown. Olympia can incentivize the development it wants by giving certainty to the community. Let’s focus on code that influences the way our downtown looks and feels. Let’s work with our partners to provide services to the vulnerable in our community and make downtown safe. Let’s create infrastructure that encourages people to walk and bike downtown. Let’s create amenities so people can live, work and play downtown. Let’s pursue the private sector to create jobs and call Olympia home. To have a downtown we can be proud of, we need to make hard decisions and stay focused.
It is time that we stopped planning the route and started taking one. While there are some in Olympia who are ready to take the difficult journey from vision to reality, others are still indecisive and need the perfect plan laid out.
We must not let perfection be the enemy of action. We are at a crossroads in our city’s history. We experienced a difficult recession that this government town is still recovering from while seeing neighboring cities and other regional magnets grow and diversify. It is time for leaders to step on the gas and make a decision, and for Olympia to realize that as a community we need to be willing to take this journey.
We are watching others take great road trips while we sit back and squabble about which direction to go. The car is in the driveway. Let’s start the journey to better Olympia.