When I was a child, my mother would drive by a house in her old neighborhood. Pointing it out, she would share a story about her memories living there. Once we walked up to the house, to a spot on the sidewalk path where three small sets of handprints sat permanently etched into the concrete. I placed my hands into the largest set of prints, amazed when they fit perfectly into the prints my mother made in wet cement 30 years before. I felt connected to the place where she grew up, even though I never lived there.
My mom often found a reason to drive through her old neighborhood when running errands, pointing out changes, remarking about a tree that was cut down, renovations to her old house and others in the neighborhood, usually with a tone of wistful nostalgia but also an acceptance that things change.
My father would drive by the place he used to live too, and tell me stories of his memories in his old neighborhood, but I never got to see his childhood home. By the time we drove by together, it had become a Target parking lot.
I met my husband in the Army. After we got married, our first apartment boasted nearly 550 square feet of spacious living, one window, and a hole in the bedroom ceiling and roof the size of a basketball that could pass as a skylight if you squinted properly. When the Army moved us to Germany, our new apartment was a luxurious upgrade. Not everyone shared our perspective. Local military wisdom was the oft-repeated rhetorical question, “If someone offered you a free European vacation for two or three years, but you had to live in an attic, would you do it?”
After we left Germany, the emergence of social media and Google maps allowed me to virtually drive by my former home, and sometimes catch glimpses of the echoes I left there. Aerial photos courtesy of Google maps revealed a square of grass that was thinner than the sod surrounding it between two of the apartment buildings where I brazenly staked a small backyard food garden that produced only a small head of lettuce and a few radishes.
Later, picture albums were shared on Facebook showing the military housing sitting vacant after being returned to the German government after several major Army post closures. In the pictures, echoes of the people that lived there before remained while the forefront was swallowed up by weeds poking through the paving stone sidewalks.
The saddest home is a vacant building, an empty space which is a home no longer, like a parking lot.
The need for basic affordable shelter continues to increase as Olympia grows, and if plans are not put into place to accommodate the population increase, people will be priced out of buying or even renting in the greater Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater region. The growth already has begun, but there is still time for the regulations to transform in order to keep up.
For that to happen, a much bigger hurdle to change must be overcome: an adjustment in mindset. Population changes are inevitable, but if we are to embrace that growth with optimism then perhaps we can reduce the growing pains that might accompany it.
Some people may see the growth in our community as an uninvited disruptor and may wish things to stay just as they are; however, that is not the only alternative. Around our nation, city centers and small towns alike are boarding up and wasting away and even being paved over for parking lots. If we Olympians meet this change with a proactive approach, we have the opportunity to maintain the character of our city as a city that embraces all types, a city that sees strength in diversity, and a city that influences the people who live here to become Olympians.
Safe shelter is a basic human need, no different than the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the food we eat. The places where we live become a part of us, and though we leave echoes of ourselves, we are the ones changed by the soil in which we put down our roots.
Holly Reed is a freelance writer, Army veteran, and a member of The Olympian’s 2018 Board of Contributors. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.