By Chris Carrel, Thinking Locally
With a new year upon us, it’s time for some changes here at Thinking Locally.
Much of last year was spent analyzing the good things about Federal Way. There was the list of my 100 favorite Federal Way things and the debunking of negative myths about the city.
The point’s been made. Federal Way is a good community with a lot of positive features. Now it’s time to turn attention to the things we can do to make this a better community. Over the next several columns, I’m going to expand on that theme and look at the larger community. What are some of the things Federal Way can do to be a better community? How can we become a better place to live, work, learn and play?
Like individuals, cities must continually work to improve themselves. Stagnation leads to decline. For cities, decline can be devastating. Not only does it suggest things like diminishing property values and increasing crime, but cities exist in a competitive environment. If the neighboring cities look like better places to live and work, we’ll lose people and businesses.
If the schools fall behind in educating children, families will move to better districts while other families will choose not to locate here in the first place. If the city government fails to provide infrastructure and support an attractive business climate, the economy will suffer as the better businesses choose to locate elsewhere.
Look at our own Commons Mall as an example. We lost a large number of businesses during the 1990s due to a confluence of factors including an aging mall, a teetering regional economy and a hinky local business climate. But as the city began to emphasize downtown economic development and new mall owners invested in upkeep, that situation began to turn around. While the downtown hasn’t, as of yet, dramatically changed, there are new stores and restaurants and a lot more shoppers frequenting the city core.
The Symphony development is a contemporary example of the city government taking strides to facilitate economic development. The planned mixed-use development on the now vacant site of the former AMC Theater will include residential, commercial and office space in four high-rise towers, with a one-acre park in the mix. The theory is that by facilitating the development (the city bought the property for $4.1 million and sold it to developer United Properties for $6.15 million), the city can help attract new businesses and residents to the downtown area, and dramatically remake the skyline, while adding a park in the downtown core.
Whether or not you agree with the council’s decision on Symphony, the city had to do something dramatic downtown. We are surrounded by suburbs investing heavily in makeovers of one sort or the other. Burien. University Place (sputtering, though that effort is). Renton. Auburn. Kent. Call it “Extreme Makeover: Municipal Edition.” If we don’t play, we lose.
Leaving our city core as-is just wasn’t a sane option. Competing with our upscaling neighbors with just an anchor mall and a flock of aging strip malls would lack both sizzle and substance. It’d be like the Seahawks playing Green Bay today without Matt Hasselback, while the Packers fielded perennial Pro Bowler Brett Favre.
But improving the community means more than just developing economic vitality. The fundamentals include good schools, safe and attractive neighborhoods and parks, and a clean and healthy environment.
I’ll focus several columns on the latter because, aside from it being my day job, the environment is an increasing emphasis of American cities, and particularly cities of the Puget Sound region.
There are Green Cities (e.g. Seattle, Tacoma), Cascade Agenda Cities (Kirkland, Issaquah) and Cool Cities (climate-friendly towns from Seattle to neighboring Pacific).
As residents of the Pacific Northwest, we want to be surrounded by a beautiful and healthy environment. People don’t come to this region because of the rain. It’s the forests, the mountain views, the shorelines and native flora and fauna that make this area special. Increasingly, residents are demanding their cities become greener and provide environmental amenities.
Does Federal Way want to be Green? Cool? And what would that look like? We’ll take a look at some of the ways Federal Way can green up. We’ll also take a look at other acts of community building, from building schools to finding the “third places.”
It’s a brand new year and the future is ours to write.
Chris Carrel is a lifelong Federal Way resident and executive director of the Friends of the Hylebos. E-mail: email@example.com.