Fifty-plus years ago, Federal Way was one of many ubiquitous suburbs being built across this country. Homes for post-World War II families looking for space for their baby-boomer offspring, with boomers coming of age and starting families of their own and wanting to forge a better path based on what they knew and believed.
Mass produced cars, houses, education, jobs, community, culture and America’s economy were the envy of the world. However, in today’s global economy, the Ford vs. Chevy debate has shifted to Toyota vs. Volkswagen being the top two car manufacturers in the world.
Going from being once seen as a newly minted planned community, Federal Way is currently struggling to find a clear identity and new path. We need to start with believing we are capable of reshaping ourselves into a power-player that is seen as an enviable address.
We need to think of Federal Way as a barn-find car with lots of rust, needing an engine overhaul, wheels, paint and more, to make us stand out in a crowd of older cars in different phases of being restored or turned into a custom vehicle capable of turning heads.
If you were new to the area and looking for the best-barn-find of a city to raise your generation alpha family, or the one following on alpha’s heals, pursue your career, live a dynamic or insular lifestyle what city would you choose — Auburn, Bellevue, Federal Way, Kent, Seattle or Tacoma?
It is safe to say that some barn-finds demand a higher price, but they all have problems. You chose Federal Way and appreciate that your purchase is drivable. You know it needs work, but you are pleased with your choice.
Now you are home, but how do you go about improving your purchase? What is the engine of a great city? A car has roughly 30,000 parts that have to work well every day if you are going to achieve your daily goals of getting somewhere.
Our barn-find has lots of parts that feel old and not functioning well enough to make what you bought feel stylish. In fact, when you try to show off your barn-find to your friends, who are not from here, they look askance at you and remind you of how much you need to do to have more than a basic functioning vehicle. But you are a dreamer, know it can be restored, and with community support, believe it can be an enviable show vehicle.
Where do you start? Is it education, jobs, daily services such as water, sewer, garbage (the basics that make life manageable), aesthetics, crime, public safety, roads, libraries, housing, the commercial/retail sector, health care, culture, parks? And the list goes on.
As we look under the hood we see a tired looking engine, and at first glance we do not comprehend all the subassemblies that need repair, replacing or upgrading to make the engine a dynamically functioning powerhouse, capable of turning heads for several generations. Our barn-find is an interdependent sum of parts that we, as an owner, may not be able to upgrade, control or afford.
We think we bought a city, but school districts function independently on their own terms – but they are the elixir that make city-engines run smoothly for generations. If we want our vehicle to be the best, we may need to consider how our education system is perceived and functioning.
School performance sets the stage for attracting and keeping education-oriented residents along with higher-level jobs capable of creating a sustainable economic synergy. Those who value education build community, support the arts, culture, and lifestyle opportunities which are the ambassadors for a dynamic city. If we want to retool this barn-find, the best place to start is with our schools.
The city governmental folks basically provide the fuel to make the daily driver you bought go. They are the enablers of getting us through traffic, roads paved, sorting out crime, assuring public safety needs are met, parks maintained and recreation ready, deciding what gets built, built well and where — basically the delivery facilitator of life quality support services — but they are not the power source behind moving our customizable restoration process forward.
The power behind every community engine is – the people – their needs, wants, spendable income, and choices they make. Understanding how and why people flow through this barn-find is critical to remaking it into a modernized custom vehicle capable of winning ribbons against competitors for years to come.
Taking this barn-find of ours to the next level requires a specialized crew with the desire to get under the hood and ferret out what is not working and listening to us — the owners — to figure out the best way to achieve our goal of turning heads and being talked about in a good way. Keith Niven, Federal Way’s Community Development Director and his crew of planning mechanics are already on task analyzing how to take our barn-find through the ringer of a Comprehensive Development Plan process.
They are kicking tires in every neighborhood, trying to shake the rust off our collective complacency, and challenging us to reimagine what a power-house of a city Federal Way could be. The comp-plan contains focused ideas and serves as a blueprint for our future.
The process works best when the diversity of our community’s voices are heard. Getting this city-restoration-project-vehicle moving toward the dynamic finish line of being able to compete well into the future, requires looking at all the moving parts, their unique needs and implementing innovative upgrades.
Without our citizens’ imaginative input and ownership, the vehicle we are wanting to restore will not be positioned to serve the needs of future generations well. As residents, if we choose to continue being the rust that prevents this barn-find from reaching its potential, our city’s governmental folks will likely go small and slap some paint on this barn-find of a city and call it good. We must do better if we want to show off our customizable engine.
Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at email@example.com.