On a recent out-of-state trip, my children boarded a classic carousel, bedazzled by twin rows of painted ponies that bobbed to calliope music.
We had enough spare cash for three tokens. I watched from the sidelines, holding four coats and a purse.
The children waved from atop their wooden horses, basking in the glow of incandescent light bulbs as the merry-go-round went round and round. My wife held our toddler tight as he clutched the brass pole with his tiny fingers. Our grade-schooler neighed and played cowboy when he galloped into view, his eyes and smile mirroring mine. The circus music swirled in our ears. I was hypnotized by the purity of my children’s laughter and merriment. The short ride slowed to a stop. A new generation was captured by the carousel’s timeless power to make people feel good. I call this the “carousel effect,” and it can help Federal Way prosper.
One like-minded idea for downtown Federal Way is the performing arts center, whose time will come, slowly but surely. Forget about economic development and downtown destinations for a moment. Ideally, the arts center’s essential function is to make people feel good. The arts center has the potential to wrap these feel-good tendrils around the hearts of local patrons and performers who will learn to treat the place like their own.
Some might say Federal Way is on another kind of carousel, only instead of painted ponies, the city rides the same fruitless ideas that revolve around an organ console that’s out of tune. Along those lines, one idea is the persistent push for skyscrapers and “mixed use development,” which is slang for retail and condominiums on the same lot.
The idea of building hundreds of hip condos and shops near the transit center sounds reasonable on paper. The intention is to attract professionals and well-heeled immigrants to live, work and play in Federal Way. Jobs and businesses will follow close behind, as the logic goes.
These intentions miss the mark. A yuppie who’s willing to buy one of those condos will skip this bedroom community for the nightlife of Seattle or Tacoma.
Most residents of Federal Way lack the finances or the credit to buy one of those hip condos, if they even wanted one. There is no reason for Federal Way’s population to appreciate the condos, regardless of their economic potential.
Let’s get back to the carousel mentality that focuses on feeling good. That is the mentality required to bond with the citizens. Help them feel good about their city, and they will work to keep it that way.
Does that mean building the world’s largest indoor carousel on the vacant downtown lot near the transit center? If that’s what it takes to win a thousand more hearts and build an army of Federal Way believers, then let the calliope music begin.