A reputation can be a hard reality to overcome. What do you
think of when I say “O.J. Simpson?” If you thought “Buffalo Bills,”
“superb actor” or “Heisman Trophy,” you may want to reset your
watch at least to 1995. One Bremerton community is intent on trying
to overcome the city’s notoriety and may be pulling it off. If it
is wildly successful it could help the entire city come off better,
To lay some context, in December, when KIRO-radio’s career
talkatician Dori Monson was decrying the
use of taxpayer money for public art in Bremerton in
these economic times, he called the city a “cool, gritty city.”
That’s one of those compliments that doesn’t really feel like one.
Bremerton is like the blind date described as having such a super
personality that you hardly notice the acne.
That grittiness, which people bring up even when they’re trying
to be nice, is something that will likely take a long time for
Bremerton to overcome. For one thing, parts of Bremerton still are
gritty. In fact, gritty would be a compliment in some corners. The
face lift that has gone on with the help of federal, state and
county money has not erased every trace of the blight that
accelerated when Orange Julius (I hear there were other stores,
too) chose rural Silverdale over Kitsap’s urban center.
The second part, though, is that you don’t live down a tag
unless you get someone to see you, and since Bremerton is a ferry
ride away from many, including the one calling the city “gritty,”
it’s a tough pitch.
I have it on good authority that recently a couple of Bainbridge
Islanders never given to heaping praise on Bremerton were in town
recently and were astounded at the change downtown. They heaped
praise, to the point of saying the city had it over the island. It
took a long time, though, for them to get here to see it.
There are, however, other parts of Bremerton. Nice parts, as it
turns out. Even nicer when neighbors decide to know each other.
One of them was lumped in with the tag “West Bremerton.” Jaime
Forsyth bought a home there in 2007. She wrote of her move:
“I bought my house during the revitalization excitement and just
befor ethe economy crashed. I could see that my block had good
‘bones’ and was within walking distance to the ferry, but less than
half seemed to take pride in their curb appeal. Further, no one
seemed to know more than one or two other families on the street of
Forsyth helped get neighbors together to plant trees in 2008
using a city grant and in 2009 with the involvement of local
churches neighbors got together again to work and used more donated
labor from the city and materials from private companies to
replace some concrete with rain
gardens. By March 2010 neighbors named the location
from the shipyard to 11th Street and from Charleston to Warren
Avenue “Union Hill.”
The name comes because it’s on a kind of a hill and in reference
to the former Union High School, now Kiwanis Park.
Neighbors got a nice write-up from the Bremerton
Patriot in March. In April some of them showed up as a group at a
city council meeting to argue in favor of Kiwanis Park improvements. In
May they marched in the Armed Forces Day Parade. On
Aug. 14 the neighborhood hosted a a story in which the point was
made that crime is lower in neighborhoods where homeowners
outnumber renters, not because homeowners are better people, but
they tend to know their neighbors better. They notice, more, when
something looks different at a neighbor’s home.
Well then, it seems to be working. The evidence would be in this
section from our story about the block party:
In her eight years living on 10th Street, Jessica Falk can’t
remember any time the neighborhood’s come together like this. As
she helped children paint pet rocks Saturday afternoon, she said
that it’s been a blessing.
“There’s a huge feeling of safety between us all,” Falk
There you go, then.
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