At lunch a few days ago with a Federal Way friend, we were talking about the pros and cons of this city.
Some of the positives we talked about dealt with our ease of access to the airport, the absolute natural beauty of the area and that we are a great entry-level value when compared to Seattle, Tacoma and Bellevue.
So my friend smartly said being a great value may not be a positive if we are not attracting quality middle-to-upper income homebuyers and new businesses to fill our vacant storefronts or office parks. We quickly realized that while we like living here, we needed to look at Federal Way with a different eye.
Then, his question to me proved to be an interesting challenge. He asked, if I were mayor what would be my five top issues?
Personally, I think Federal Way’s most critical issue is that our schools are not perceived as quality based on test scores and school ratings.
But that is not the mayor’s challenge or the direct responsibility of our municipal government. But improving our schools and increasing their value is paramount for this city’s future.
My-off-the cuff response was that our retail options aren’t inspiring.
When driving in this city, my eye sees a tacky hodgepodge of fast food dining, chain restaurants, discount retail and challenged shopping centers.
After more discussion we both realized the city has control over the commons — streets, rights-of way, traffic signals, parks, recreation facilities, city buildings or basically anything it owns directly.
But it also controls the heartbeat of the city with, ordinances, public safety and municipal resources, zoning and land use planning, code compliance, use of public funds and facilities for community development and events. It has a significant role but there are limits as well.
I’d say crime was an issue but the crime rate is low even though our boneheaded criminals are good at getting themselves in the news.
The Performing Arts and Conference Center was an issue but Council said build it, so it merits high-level project status.
In the grand scheme of things, I think the way to approach the five issues challenge is to visualize Federal Way as the city we would like it to become.
Defining a result is easier to articulate than proposing a variety of steps without any specific end in mind.
To me, Federal Way needs to become a more sophisticated economic center that is attractive to the college educated millennial generation.
Currently, the urban scene is to their liking. But as they start down the path of raising families they will be attracted to many of the elements that made suburbia grow.
The difference now is they want high tech and touch combined with the feeling of urbanized sophistication. They desire a more defined space with mobility by foot, bike, bus and light rail to work, shopping, entertainment and culture.
In a few years when the millennial adults of baby boomers start families in greater numbers, they will be seeking quality schools in a more urbanized suburbia with easy access to jobs, mobility, culture and parks.
Their parents’ desire for downsizing, need for one-level homes or increased health care adds urgency to the transition and revitalization discussion.
So to get started, I’d focus on: mobility at all levels; developing cohesive well defined and maintained neighborhood communities while constricting low-end affordable housing; community aesthetics and gateway entry points; improving and expanding parks, recreation and cultural resources; and adding staff to city departments with the directive of making Federal Way the significant player in the South Puget Sound. Of course, the devil is in the details but no one said picking five issues for the mayor’s attention would be easy. What issues would you choose?
Federal Way resident Keith Livingston: firstname.lastname@example.org