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A clean Dome and well-tended parks: Citizenship at work

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on April 15, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
April 13, 2012 6:16 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Imagine Pierce County without volunteers and donors.

PTAs and youth athletic leagues would wither, along with homeless shelters and food kitchens. Trash would accumulate in alleys, vacant lots and on roadsides. Parks would turn into dumps. Charities would cease to exist.

And Tacoma’s most visible landmark – the Tacoma Dome – wouldn’t be getting cleaned this month.

Some anonymous donor recently offered the City of Tacoma up to $103,835 to scrub the Dome’s embarrassingly filthy roof.

A crew is now engaged in removing seven years of grime from its surface. Tens of thousands of motorists will soon be driving by a sparkling architectural icon, not a monument to freeway exhaust.

It’s a perfect illustration of why the world needs people generous with their time or money.

The city government is flat broke, so short of revenue that its police and fire departments are threatened by cutbacks. It’s in no position to write a six-figure check for an optional cleanup. Without private help, the Dome might have remained caked with pollutants – getting dirtier and dirtier – for years to come.

To that anonymous, public-spirited citizen: a heartfelt thanks.

Thanks, too, to the good souls who will be showing up in force this Saturday for Parks Appreciation Day (metroparkstacoma.org).

Since Parks Appreciation Day was launched in 2002, it has become a spectacular display of commitment to shared lands.

Volunteer work parties converge on parks throughout Pierce County with shovels, pruners, rakes and wheelbarrows; they pick up litter, pull weeds, spread mulch and gravel, plant trees and shrubs, and otherwise beautify these precious community assets.

Last year, an estimated 2,500 people turned out and contributed an estimated $162,150 worth of labor and other in-kind services.

It was another case of private citizens doing what the public sector could not. Parks departments – particularly Pierce County Parks & Recreation – have been hit hard by the economic downtown and the resulting shortfalls in tax revenue. The area’s public spaces would sliding into decrepitude if not for those who’ve given up their Saturday mornings to preserve the commons.

This kind of community-building effort is the essence of citizenship. More than 150 years ago, the French political analyst Alexis de Tocqueville noted that Americans were exceptionally willing to unite in “voluntary associations” to carry out projects for the common good.

Governments can handle some of the big jobs, he noted, “but what political power could ever carry on the vast multitude of lesser undertakings which the American citizens perform every day, with the assistance of the principle of association?”

As Parks Appreciation Day will demonstrate again Saturday, that ethic of citizenship is alive and well in Pierce County.

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