What it really means to be ‘centered on opportunity’ | Livingston

As a resident and observer of our city, I believe we have shifted our energy from one of believing in the promise of its potential to one that is working hard to avoid being seen as a city in decline.

Federal Way uses “centered on opportunity” as its marketing tagline. That brings up some interesting questions.

Do outsiders see us as a great opportunity and for those of us who live here are we willing to invest in building a city of opportunity? Curious, how does a city of opportunity present itself?

As a resident and observer of our city, I believe we have shifted our energy from one of believing in the promise of its potential to one that is working hard to avoid being seen as a city in decline. If we were such a great opportunity, we would be highlighted in magazines and searchable on the internet as a city known for retirement, employment, business startups, entertainment, hospitality, health care, the arts, best schools, or being a sleepy town that is affordable with low crime, quality lifestyle and great location.

All cities have an identity, and the best have a sense of pride emanating from every business, resident and elected leaders making their town valued as the place to be. It feels like we are trapped in the paradigm of “faking it til we make it” using a tagline that feels like a “want” that is not connecting to the outcome we need.

Realtors in concert with developers helped build suburbs with the attitude of “build it and they will come.” Federal Way was presented in its younger days as a wise choice suburb of the future. Fast forward to today and Weyerhaeuser’s iconic headquarters building is empty with logistics warehouses being built on the campus now owned by IRG/Woodbridge.

The white-collar middle-class jobs that once occupied many of our office buildings on the west campus and former Weyerhaeuser headquarters property have moved elsewhere. We have room for economic development opportunities for entrepreneurial startups or corporate relocations, but very few takers.

Becoming an opportunity-centered or aspirational place requires a monumental shift in our thinking. We started with the premise of being a bedroom community and the antithesis of city life. Initially homogeneous, new, and affordable with the promise of opportunity supported by a suburban lifestyle, we were desired.

In the news, as well as in multiple clips on YouTube, Federal Way is presented from multiple points of view. Realtors present our city as affordable, charming mid-century suburban-style homes, location advantaged for access to the airport, next to I-5, and a future light rail stop for commuting, good parks, and supported by the Aquatics Center and Wild Waves as great local attractions. They cherry-pick stellar views of the Bonsai Garden, the Puget Sound, and Dash Point State Park and often include Brown’s Point Lighthouse and the pier at Dash Point.

They know their audience is not necessarily local and they are good at tailoring their presentation to how out-of-city buyers visually consume information. When mentioning our schools, they cite statistics from either Great Schools or Niche. For crime, we get a “c” rating or not discussed depending on the presenter.

The realtors’ vlogs that I viewed are selling the city as a great place to live in terms of being an affordable choice. There is also plenty of consumable video content, depending on the thread you are trying to follow, showing street fights and the seedier sides of Federal Way.

What was missing as I was searching for ideas on opportunity, were vlogs from our cultural groups, community service organizations, or businesses marketing themselves as value expanders for our city. We need every organization to be social media savvy in presenting their programs as part of Federal Way’s heartbeat. It is hard to say that we are centered on opportunity if we are not producing consumable content showing the best of Federal Way.

Demonstrating how we build value for all who live, work, and play here will encourage and amplify the potential of why choosing Federal Way is a smart opportunity. The realtors in their vlogs connect more on value than opportunity, such as – cost, location, being commuter friendly, access to the region, schools, parks, and sufficient neighborhood data to provide a sense of perspective regarding the level and types of crime a prospective buyer will likely encounter.

Value investing focuses on networking and expanding resource capabilities. Before and post incorporation as a city, we have had a shallow vision of what it means to build as well as be a valued community.

Every community focuses on public safety and infrastructure. However, building a primarily police-focused city with nice streets will not build value, eliminate crime, or make you a desired destination. We need more investment in the arts, aesthetics, education, lifestyle resources, connectivity, and how we present ourselves.

Conservative media presents government as being bad, needing to be held in check, and unresponsive, believing that privatization is the answer for providing community resources and opportunity — let the marketplace decide is the familiar refrain. However, government’s responsibility is greater than the private sector’s need to make a profit.

Building for value requires being smarter than anti-government ideologues, and understanding that when the facilitation capabilities that government has, are embraced, they can create connectivity and energize a community through incentives and strategic networking. We need to get beyond the politics of not liking government and reimagine our city around being people-centered.

Opportunity comes from having a clear set of values that is more than a set of bullet points at meetings. Value comes from respect, defining purpose, collaboration potential, being accessible, assuring dignity, and aligning goals and services to establish community-wide synergy.

Knowing what values to embrace and allowing them to permeate all sectors of the community will build the opportunity coalitions needed to take our city to a new level of desirability, activity, and connectivity. Opportunities will come when we change our focus from being centered on opportunity to being focused on embracing talent, community building, and valuing people first.

Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at keithlivingstondesign@gmail.com