Downtown Spokane Sunset

#3 Downtown

Spokane’s Best Neighborhoods –

Hipster Rating (out of 10): 10
Predominant Housing Prices:
Ownership: Around $300,000
Rentals: Around $1,000 but with much variance
Housing Density: High
Mixed Use Rating: Nearly Perfect

Downtown Spokane
Downtown Spokane is one of a kind.

Narrative

From a planning and economic development perspective, there are few better places than Downtown Spokane. Compared to most downtowns throughout the nation, Spokane’s is among the healthiest. For many coming off the farm fields and timberlands surrounding the city, Downtown represents an easily accessible cosmopolitan experience providing all the big-city amenities one would need.

From a livability perspective, Downtown’s resurgence as a viable residential destination occurred most rapidly in the 2000s, whereby a significant number of historic structures were renovated for market rate condominiums and apartments. Prior to the early 2000s, most housing options were low to moderate income and subsidized. Today, Downtown is a healthy mix of mixed-market housing for all income levels.

From a retail perspective, health of the sector is simple to measure. Are store spaces filled with tattoo parlors, pay-day lending firms, and pawn shops? Or are they filled with Apple stores, Nordstrom’s and Banana Republics? As other cities throughout the country, big and small, lost their healthy downtown retail environments to suburban growth, Downtown Spokane bucked the trend, and today hosts an ever growing platoon of top-tier retailers.

There is always room to improve an urban environment as dynamic as Downtown Spokane but you can bet cities throughout the country look toward the destination with lustful eyes and wonder where they can find a candle bright enough to hold to it.

 

Criteria

An Identifiable Center

Spokane Post Street and River Park Square
Double 25’s. River Park Square is the heart of the action.

This criterion is interesting for Downtown Spokane, seeing how it’s already the center of the city. I will, however, take a stab at it: River Park Square, Downtown’s largest entertainment and retail center, is where the energy of the urban environment peaks; thereby, it’s the center of the center.

 

Boundaries

Downtown has pretty clear boundaries mostly courtesy of the neighborhood’s physical geography. The Spokane River (and Riverfront Park) form the northern boundary, Interstate 90 and the slope of the South Hill form the southern boundary. To the east is Division and the University District, and to the west is Brown’s Addition.

 

A Front Door

This is one of the larger esthetic challenges facing Downtown. Given all the front doors into the neighborhood, much discussion ensues amongst civic leaders about how to better beautify and provide way-finding signage into the heart of the city. Although identification of the problem is a great first step, action oriented improvements are still largely absent, despite years of talking about it.

 

Mixed Land Uses

Downtown’s land uses are as mixed and varied as you’ll find in the city.

 

Diverse Architecture

Spokane's Best Neighborhoods
Downtown Spokane never answered the siren song of urban renewal, much if its historic character remains in tact.

Downtown has a great mix of historic structures and modern architecture. In fact, the most architecturally ornate street in the city is Riverside Avenue from the Spokesman Review building winding all the way to 1st Avenue about 2/3rds of a mile away.

 

Structures that Address the Street

Downtown scores well here, too. Aside from a couple of mistakes built during an era where everyone thought it was okay to set-back a building with on-sight parking, the vast majority of Downtown structures are zero set-back from the sidewalk.

 

Streets that Generally Connect

Aside from a few streets that stop at the BNSF rail viaduct, all streets connect to another street.

 

Detached Sidewalks

Most sidewalks Downtown are wide and spacious and provide a safe environment for pedestrians.

 

Street Trees

Riverside Blvd Downtown Spokane
Riverside Boulevard in downtown Spokane is one of the city’s great streets.

Downtown does well toward this end; however, in places there are gaps in the tree line.

 

Walkability

Downtown is the most walkable neighborhood in the city. No vehicle, no problem.

 

Neighborhood Challenges

High density urban environments are going to have their fair share of challenges, and if you pick up one of the newspapers every day, you’ll see Downtown’s. I could probably write a book describing the challenges unique to Downtown Spokane (and recommendations to cure them). However, for the purposes of this post, I will only dwell on one: recognize that Downtown is in fierce competition for investment alongside the other regional market centers — Valley Mall, Northtown Mall, and Coeur d’Alene. If one of these market centers snags a top-tier tenant, it will likely be the only one to locate in the market. Thus, for the health of Downtown, civic leaders would do well to utilize more tools, desire, and creativity to ensure Downtown wins the most significant regional investments.