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Is Tacoma the ‘last bastion of normalcy’ in our region?

(File photo, Chris Sullivan/KIRO Radio)

The president of the Tacoma Rainiers Triple-A baseball team called the city his team represents the “last bastion of normalcy” earlier this week.

During his discussion about the Triple-A All-Star Game, Aaron Artman said Tacoma is a West Coast city that’s still an affordable place to live while having “a good time.” And, “it just keeps getting better,” he added.

That’s quite the turnaround from a city that was known widely for its odor (the “Aroma of Tacoma”), which The New York Times pointed out had lingered with it for almost a century — back in 1988! The smell was even the subject of a study published in the Journal of Business & Economics Statistics about the relation of the funky smell to property values.

“It’s not a stink or a stench,” former Mayor Doug Sutherland said at the time. “It’s an unpleasant odor!”

Yet, the odor — not to mention other stigmas that many cities deal with such as crime — surrounded Tacoma with a less-than-ideal image.

Though some may have their own theories about the smell, it’s widely believed that Commencement Bay is at least partially responsible. The bay was labeled as polluted and an arm of it, which was also the site of a sawmill, became a Superfund site. Other components of the aroma included a pulp and paper mill, and an oil refinery.

But since rock star Bruce Springsteen, a New Jersey native, accused the smell of making him sick on tour — are you picking up on the irony? — Tacoma’s image seems to have improved. Even for Artman who, growing up in Portland, used to watch newscasts about the problems of the city.

Tacoma does seem to be cleaning up its act. Mayor Marilyn Strickland and city leaders are tackling difficult issues, such as homeless, without as much of the drama that goes along with Seattle’s homeless crisis.

The result: More people seem to be willing to move to the city; a move that was once unthinkable.

Artman called it a “great” and “unique” city where you can walk into a restaurant or bar and see people in business attire sitting alongside “guys with tattoos.”

But with the good comes the bad. With more people moving in, rents are increasing. The Tacoma News Tribune reports the city has seen double-digit increases. Tacoma was listed fourth in a report detailing cities with the fastest-growing rent. Of course, the average $1,110 per month for rent comes nowhere near the average of $1,900 in Seattle.

It’s also becoming more expensive to buy a home. A median-priced home in Pierce County now costs more than $250,000, according to the Tribune. The Tribune also found that the city ranked as the “11th worst city to raise a family” when looking at a variety of metrics, including affordability, crime, and income.

It’s unlikely Tacoma will retain its current state of normalcy for much longer if Seattle’s home prices continue to push people out. Then again, it depends on your definition of normalcy.

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