Recently, Sammamish topped the 2020’s Best Small Cities in America list by Wallethub, with high index scores for economic health, education & health, and safety. One notable exception was its score for “quality of life,” where it ranked near the bottom at 1,171 out of the 1,200 cities that were ranked.
Many of the factors that went into Wallethub’s quality of life ranking were clearly lacking in Sammamish. They included per capita metrics for restaurants, bars, clubs, coffee shops, movie theaters, museums, performing arts centers and department stores, of which Sammamish has very few or none in existence. Those who live here, by in large, would also agree that average commute times are longer than desired, and very few people can walk to work, both of which also were factors in the ranking.
Quality of life, however, is subjective to each individual. Some may consider a fitness center an absolute necessity, while variety in restaurants and bars might be important to another.
As part of our inquiry, the Sammamish Independent interviewed several residents in different age groups to understand what they thought about the quality of life here, and what more the city could offer that it currently does not have.
Overall, most people rated quality of life in Sammamish as relatively good, albeit a little boring and that there was room for improvement. Several cited the need for more dining and entertainment options, and complained about driving to Issaquah or Redmond for anything entertaining.
Jolene Greer Stevens, who is in her early 40s, moved here from Los Angeles about a year ago, and much of her frame of reference is due to comparisons with her former locale as well as other small towns she has travelled to.
“I do think that restaurants are lacking here. I am definitely used to more diversity in offerings and just many more offerings,” said Stevens.
Shivali and Ananya Ahuja, two sisters who attend Eastlake High School, shared that sentiment, although their desire for dining and entertainment matches the typical preferences at their age.
“We have to go to Redmond or Issaquah for attractions, like Issaquah Highlands or Redmond Town Center shops,” Ananya Ahuja said. “Pre-COVID, whenever we would go somewhere, it wouldn’t be in Sammamish. There aren’t any attractions here like dance studios, movie theater, ice cream shop, or a boba tea store.”
The lack of public transportation, and an over-reliance on cars, was also a common theme that came up for multiple residents. Claire Jones, 29, who grew up in this region, said she often feels frustrated that it is so difficult to go places without having your own car.
“That is something that is frustrating to me that it is difficult to get anywhere on the bus because it is not super well connected,” Jones said.
Kushagra Verma, a Skyline High School senior, agrees. He considers public transportation to be a critical enhancement of quality of life for teens.
“I definitely think that public transformation could be better,” said Verma. “Before I could drive, I had to rely on parents unless I could walk or bike there.”
Marie Hunt, 59, who is a single mom of two teens and a young adult, considers her own quality of life to be good but could empathize with the experience of her children. She echoed that the quality of life for non-driving teens was low, because there are very few entertainment options in Sammamish, and they cannot drive out of the city to get to them. She would prefer more commercial activity to be placed in the middle of the city, between the three high schools.
“If you do it in the Town Center, then the way we have those three high schools so close together, it is within reasonable access for them to get there,” Hunt said. “I would love to go there on a weekend. While my kids are doing laser tag, I could go bowling with my friends.”
Hunt specifically referred to the Sammamish Town Center, a planned development near City Hall that includes retail, office space and housing.
Matthew Samwick, the operating manager at Innovation Realty Partners LLC., the organization currently developing the site, believes the Town Center is a very viable solution to deliver on many of the residents’ expressed desires.
According to Samwick, current plans include retail space on the ground floor of two apartment buildings. Teenagers are one of his target groups, with a plan to create space where they can gather and hang out, including coffee and ice cream shops. Overall, his intention is to bring restaurants at varying price points, styles and cuisines.
There are also ongoing discussions to integrate public transportation into the development, including a new, multi-modal transit center. The goal is to make it easy for everyone to get to and from Sammamish. King County Metro has agreed to serve the Town Center already once a transit hub is built as part of the development, with routes to be determined later.
“Sammamish is already a fantastic place to live and with the addition of something that addresses the quality of life, it would become an even better place to live,” Samwick said.
The current plan is to build the Town Center development in several phases, but the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the entitlement process by a few months. Samwick hopes to get the entitlements by 2021 to begin construction, especially as more people work from home and demand for these dining and entertainment options grow.
Of course, for some residents, the quality of life is already very high, and they do not want that to change. Gale Paul, who is in her late 60s, said “all of my needs are being met.” She has lived in this area for more than three decades. She appreciates a community where her neighbors’ are kind to each other. For instance, they help her clear her driveway when it snows.
Local volunteer organizations, such as Eastside Friends of Seniors, add to her quality of life by offering free rides for her to get to doctors’ appointments. She believes that it is the quality of life in Sammamish that is already attracting people from all over the world to move here, enhancing the diversity of the community. However, she did have one desire.
“I am perfectly happy with the way Sammamish is right now except for the fact that there isn’t a hardware store nearby,” Paul said.