Small towns are the direct product of human decisions, millions of them, going on daily, weekly, monthly since the advent of time. Or at least the advent of the town. These decisions comprise the true nature of a town, and often towns end up far, far different than their first days as a result. Some end up becoming cities. Others end up becoming empty places. To even out these small decisions and shape the destiny of a town, the community often has to get together and make a big decision or two.
A small town with a lot on its mind is Hoquiam, Washington. The Pacific Northwest town in Grays Harbor was born a lumber town, its economy growing from the forests all around it. Today it keeps an eye on its past with a variety of events — such as the internationally recognized Loggers’ Playday as well as annual fall logging competitions and parades. Where it goes from here is the big question, though.
The discussion in the city revolves around what to do with its waterfront. The river courses right through the scenic downtown, offering up possibilities for tourism and culture with a lovely backdrop. The waterfront-as-cultural spot has been successfully exploited by cities such as San Antonio and Baltimore, and in the right kind of place, a developed waterfront is the perfect place to place a dining and shopping destination.
This waterfront had a bit of a Renaissance in the 1980s, but now development possibilities mean the conversation has to begin again, and get serious. This being tax money at stake, and the future of a town’s culture, it’s not to be taken lightly. Hoquiam has to decide how it wants to grow.
It’s in a fine place at the mouth of the river, where the harbor ties the city to its watery history. Its proximity to Aberdeen, the rival city to the east, means any decision about growth has reverberating effects. Their decisions about what kind of city it wants to become will potentially unite or divide the region, meaning Hoquiam is the little sibling that has to be the grown-up.
Their real interest will be in negotiating its links to its history with the potential for future development. It’s delicate, this relationship — too much loyalty to the past can pre-empt a future, and too much enthusiasm about heading into the future can change a town into somewhere else entirely. For Hoquiam, the choices are many, important, and ultimately definitive.
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