TWA members and others are talking to writer Sharon Babcock about enduring inspirations, life lessons, and perspectives from their experiences on the working waterfront.
This month’s feature: Dawn Lucien, civic leader and TWA Advisory Council member.
Dawn Lucien is a long-timer Tacoma civic leader for government, the arts, education, and the waterways. She has served on the city council and the Tacoma Public Utilities board; she has helped establish the University of Washington branch campus in Tacoma, the Puyallup tribal land claims settlement, and the Center for Urban Waters; and she worked to reopen the Murray Morgan Bridge. She has served on the TWA board since its formal inception as a non-profit in 2008. Her vision for Tacoma is for it to be the future conflict resolution capital of the world.
Q: What events or moments in your background led you to this involvement?
In my mother’s life, she saw a range of technologies from the covered wagon to the jet airplane. I believe my life of 90 years is even more interesting because of the vast changes in communications that have occurred. The information available to us now in the digital world is mind-boggling.
Q: Which people and which experiences have influenced you most powerfully?
I have been interested in how things develop in communities since my father began to talk to me at the kitchen dinner table when I was 3 years old about what goes on around us and how it works. He read a lot; he was fascinated by the intentions of those who were our leaders.
Q: What moments stand out to you as critical to who you are and what you care about?
I was the youngest of six girls growing up in Prosser, Wash. I had five older sisters — the oldest was 20 years older than I — and I was alone at home after age 12. In 1967, the president of the United States tapped me to attend the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. I was one of four representatives from the United States and was asked to speak on the brain drain. This taught me the importance of what goes on behind the scenes in accomplishing anything. From 1948 to 1972 I was a delegate or in another role at political conventions and learned about the impact of rules changes on governance. I went to work for our local U.S. congressman in 1976. There I learned the value of holding quarterly town hall meetings to give citizens the opportunity to get together to talk about their interests and concerns. This can prevent topics from becoming divisive issues. Two of my children joined the U.S. Merchant Marine and one was the first four-star admiral in the Navy SEALS so I have always had an affinity for issues relating to world trade and waterways, critical issues for Tacoma. We have the fifth best natural harbor in the world because it remains a shoreline of up to 60 feet deep without dredging. That is unique.
Q: What in your work relating to Commencement Bay are you most proud of?
Our salmon population needed attention during the 1990s when I served on the Tacoma Public Utilities board. Eventually there were a thousand people working to resolve the issue.
Q: What does Tacoma need to address regarding its waterfront?
I am concerned about the polluting and soiling of our planet. Rising waters and pollution will make a significant difference in our 48 miles of shoreline on Commencement Bay.
Q: What does it take to get large scale civic projects done?
Like-minded people of good will and good intentions coming together with hope. It takes people having the chance to get to know one another, to form friendships in order to be able to work together. After the initial excitement about a project, it takes an honest assessment of what is involved in getting it done and what that takes. I have to come at any solution from a positive point of view, taking into account what has happened previously. In my view, there is no room in the process for anger or hatred. To remind myself, I put this quote on my refrigerator: “I do not react. I act.” I remain interested in how things get done in our community and what the future will be. You begin to think about it more often when you realize that you are aging and will not always be there to influence it.
Q: What advice do you have for the next generation regarding Commencement Bay?
I doubt that any other port in the world can claim 48 miles of salt water frontage. We need to be conscious of how the world views us. With this in mind, consider naming locations in a way that describes the property, not a person. Attract cruise ships to Tacoma; we have more to offer visitors using this mode of transportation than Seattle does because of the easy access to museums and downtown. Because of I-5 traffic backups, it is time to revive ferry boats conveying people between Tacoma and Seattle.
Q: What do stakeholders in the future of the waterfront need to do to move forward productively?
I notice that civics is no longer a subject taught in schools; it is critically important that there are opportunities in education to open minds. The various entities responsible for the future health and economic success of our waterways need to regularly meet to head off the kind of divisiveness that occurred recently over the proposed methanol plant. Positive change can happen when people of good will get together.
Q: Is more development always better for Commencement Bay?
It is not better when it results in damage to the environment or jeopardizes human safety. After we evaluate all sides of possible impacts of proposed development, I want Tacoma to be able to add in positive ways to what we currently have and love here.
Q: What are the major changes that you imagine happening on Commencement Bay?
Because we are situated in such a remarkable location, there is significant potential for major Asian financial investment in our future. I can see us being much more of a destination for tourists. In 50 years I do believe some of our sea level land — three feet or more — will have disappeared because of the change in our weather patterns.
Q: What other communities should we be looking to for wisdom on our own next steps?
We could be doing more interacting with Canada and China.
Q: What most inspires you?
The natural world. My family has always been walkers particularly along Ruston Way. Seeing gnats the size of a piece of salt and reading about huge dinosaurs encourages me to rise each day to learn more about our brains. It inspires me to protect what we have.