Could Federal Way be a city with cachet´? Improving a community that seems haplessly adrift with no clear destination is challenging. As residents of this town, we need to take a good look at what we have become and rethink what we can do to build a better future for those who choose to live, work and play here.
Federal Way was conceived as a middle-class city that would fatten over time with great schools, quality work opportunities and access for the region’s working-class core with the admirable goal of a better lifestyle for all. Currently the meat on this city’s bones is slowly starving.
Elected officials and respective staffs don’t get to ask for a crisis based on their expertise. What gets attention is what squeaks the loudest. Crisis management often requires quick patches but the upstream causes rarely get addressed.
That is why what gets done in the present on airport noise, save the Weyerhaeuser campus, homelessness, youth intervention, housing, code enforcement, crime or where the mayor chooses to have coffee will have minimal immediate effect. Long-term impact requires understanding problems to their foundation and undoing root causes.
Our community’s long line of leaders, developers and businesses, in concert with individuals who filled this city’s homes, did not appreciate that homes occupied with middle-class incomes does not automatically give you class, culture or a clear path to the avenues of sustainability, respectability, or cachet´. It takes commitment, time and lots of human capital to build community.
Understanding middle-class, working-class and upper-class desires, wants, needs, their multiple subsets, and blending them together is complicated. So how should our current City Council, who currently have their focus on the lower echelons of community due to the “in your face” nature of homelessness and poverty, holistically tackle the needs and challenges confronting this city?
Prosperity and access to quality employment opportunities across King County and the region is uneven, with poverty and other social equity challenges being more prevalent in South King County. Disruption flows somewhere and some of it is landing in Federal Way. At the same time many long-term residents are leaving due to economic pressures as well as a sense of displeasure with the overall direction of our city.
Change and displacement have been constants in the landscape that is America. Periods of rapid change are stressful. Seattle and the Eastside cities are enjoying dynamic growth and an employment synergy that is the envy of the northwest. But that growth is disrupting and uneven.
In 1960 much of the land south of downtown Seattle was manufacturing, small communities, agricultural activities, undeveloped, residential areas for working-class families and view homes. Land use was steadily changing. Most south sound residents, then and now, are salt of the earth types who want to do a good job, earn a fair wage, be left alone, value consistency and do not want to have their world view confused by facts or change.
The mortgage red-lining that was a common practice in Seattle and King County in the 1950-60s formed a foundation for today’s challenges. The intent was to push poverty, minorities and working-class types to areas south of Seattle Downtown and into south King County.
President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and civil rights legislation was designed to combat many of those practices. The damage that was done then is still lingering today.
Maybe our current elected officials should focus their frustration on understanding and correcting past decisions. King County, to their credit, is providing information on equity and long-term injustice issues. The county’s research, statistics and maps have identified an unevenness of health, life expectancy, education, unemployment, income, access barriers and life quality in South King County.
At present, this city and our neighboring cities of Auburn, Des Moines, and Kent, share many of the equity concerns identified by King County. As a city we need to take an inventory of our strengths, weaknesses and equity barriers in order to understand how we got here and then define what we want to be, plan, and go forward.
A positive identity for this city requires all of us to reach beyond ourselves and work to become a destination city that is welcoming, education savvy, family friendly, opportunity focused, culturally oriented, environmentally smart, valued, and sustainable. In the words of James Baldwin: “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Keith Livingston is a longtime Federal Way resident and community observer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.