Downtown Spokane 2016

We Don’t Want to Be Seattle

“We don’t want to be Seattle,” say the naysayers who tend to be the same people against transit initiatives, walkability, and neighborhood revitalization efforts. We don’t want to be Seattle is one of those canaries for those who fear change and cling to their expo ’74 version of Spokane like a toddler with a blankie.

We don’t want to be Seattle. We don’t want to engage with a 21st century market place. We don’t want 21st century diversity. We’re not hipsters. We refuse to recognize that Spokane is changing, that the world is changing. Nope, we prefer to be annoyed with our simple potholes and complain about the mad conspiracy that keeps us down, otherwise known as the Cowles family.

Spokane is the central city of the 69th largest metro in the nation and the 73rd largest media market. Visit Spokane has rightfully labelled Spokane’s economic region as “The Golden Circle” because the immediate market from here to the crest of the cascades, through southern British Columbia, northern Oregon, and east to Billings, is so distinguishable that it demands a name. Analysts and academics know it, too. Google “Bureau of Economic Analysis Maps” and you’ll see just how distinguishable Spokane’s economic region is.

We ain’t no Seattle but we are the big city and if municipal Spokane doesn’t aggressively set itself apart from our neighboring suburban municipalities, the heart and soul of a vast economic region will hollow-out and vanish. Then, instead of trying to be Seattle, we’ll be trying to resemble what we once were, much like Detroit, or Youngstown, or Cleveland, or Saint Louis, or [name that city] does. The funny thing about all those places is they’re trying to be like us – with a healthy downtown, revitalized inner-city neighborhoods, road diets, walkability, and generally working toward urban health. There are plenty of metros in the nation larger than Spokane that are striving toward the relatively healthy urban environment that central city Spokane provides.

Make no mistake, the City of Spokane is the central city.

Thus, we locals have adopted the wrong statement of mistrust, the wrong mantra. It’s not “we don’t want to be Seattle.” It should be “we don’t want to be Detroit, we don’t want to be Saint Louis, Youngstown, Cleveland…” We don’t want to be a dump with a dead downtown and crime ridden inner-city neighborhoods so that suburban municipalities can have robust strip malls and pristine cul de sacs.

It is incumbent upon all central cities to chart the market path for their namesake metropolitan areas. More so than any other entity in the region – not GSI, not Spokane County, not Spokane Valley, not Liberty Lake – it is Spokane City Hall that sets the market tone for the entire metro. The future of the region can either have healthy inner-city neighborhoods or not. This is the sole choice of Spokane City Hall. And, make no mistake, the recipe to revitalize Spokane’s inner city is a simple one that, for the most part, City Hall is attempting to create.

We don’t want to be Seattle is a statement of complacency and a convenience for those who are too fearful to adapt or for those protecting a share of the market. A statement meant to conjure unmanageable traffic, overpriced housing, and all that scary diversity.

Spokane ain’t no Seattle, nor will we become it. If the goal is for Spokane to prosper, then drop that mantra and adopt the mantra of walkability, density, and urbanism, because that’s what thriving central cities do.

Regionalism is a term loosely thrown around, but most don’t grasp its deeper meaning. The City of Spokane’s regional responsibility is to lead its namesake metro. For those who chose to live in the suburbs, not pay property taxes in the city, and yet complain about road diets or other urban revitalization methods of Spokane City Council, how about you move to town? Put your money where your mouth is. Start paying some local property tax, because City Council’s responsibility is to create strong neighborhoods, including downtown, based on tried and true methods that have been proven to work time and again. City Council’s responsibility is not to placate the development mentality of those that prefer a suburban market. On the contrary, City Council’s responsibility is to create a healthy urban environment for the metro’s namesake.

Central cities are the hotbed of innovation, not the suburbs. So, for all you that live outside the city of Spokane yet complain about what City Hall is doing and advocating against best urban practices, the City of Spokane has no obligation to accommodate your opinions. Instead, you should be thanking the City of Spokane for the pains they take to create a healthy inner city that, in turn, allows you to live in a healthy suburb.

Becoming a healthy big city doesn’t make us Seattle. It makes us competitive.