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.