The Story of Olympia’s Development

Can the development of a city be reduced to a coherent narrative? What would drive that story? Who are the characters? These questions interest me because it’s necessary to put ourselves into that story at some point if we want to have some influence over its conclusion. This was the reason I joined the OPC; it was the reason I left the OPC; and the thoughts I have on these questions compel me to write here.

In many previous posts here, I followed the OPC’s meetings and agendas in an attempt to keep an eye on how the policies that supposedly shape our future are crafted. (Thankfully, the city’s recent technology is making it very easy to follow everything without someone like me keeping up with the thousands of OPC meetings.) We have also kept abreast of various developments by observing permit applications and construction projects. Typically, someone trying to follow a city’s development uses some combination of these two methods to tell the story of their city. There is value to both of these methods, but both concentrate on the surface appearance without really telling the story as far as I’m concerned.

My objection is simple. The succession of construction projects does not create the city any more than a group of people sitting around to discuss policy at regularly scheduled meetings. A city that people love arises from their collective—though rarely coordinated—behavior and action as individuals within that city. In that statement we collapse the major contradiction of planning and municipal development: it’s our subconscious behavior and as I’ll argue over the next few posts, rarely our conscious behavior that makes the city what it is. Over the next few posts I hope to offer some conclusions about our dear Olympia’s development in whole and in its component parts. I hope to provide some guidance in our understanding of how we can improve what we don’t like about Olympia, and how we might maintain what we do.

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