Listening to the perspectives of mayoral candidates and city council hopefuls is an exercise in keyword identification. It’s their deployment of keywords that suggest whether they’re qualified to run our city or if they’re nothing more than an empty vessel. For instance, when they don’t have a substantive answer on a subject, such as homelessness, the default talking point is “I’m going to form a task force….” Within the minds of the task force candidates, there’s not a challenge in Spokane that a task force can’t solve.
If the task force candidates get elected, I sure do hope all these new task forces start talking to the old task forces. Perhaps we’d need a task force to manage the task forces? The point is if you hear a candidate deploy the phrase “task force” as a solution to a problem, it means they don’t have a solution to the problem, nor are they knowledgeable enough to acknowledge existing committees, task forces, and boards already established to address the issue.
If we’re hearing the keyword phrase “task force” too much during this election cycle, there’s also some keyword phrases we’re not hearing enough, such as “central city.” No, not the Central City Line, STA’s bus that looks like a train; I’m talking about the core of the metropolis. The beating heart. The entity that shapes the product of the entire region. The central city.
Central cities throughout the nation compete with their suburban neighbors. They compete for private investment, tax base, and grants, just for starters. Universally, their lesser suburban neighbors suffer from an inferiority complex compared to the central city. In most cases, it’s because they are, in fact, inferior – Spokane’s suburban neighbors being no exception.
I’m going to circle back to central city in just a moment but let’s introduce another keyword I’m not hearing enough: walkability. For those that are versed in cities, walkability denotes purity within an urban realm – housing density, mixed land uses, accessible mass transit that feeds the real estate market, sidewalks, buildings that address streets (rather than parking lots), bike lanes, scooter/bike sharing, and a public realm lush with greenery and color.
Within Spokane County, the factors that contribute to walkability – particularly taken all together – are diamonds in the suburban rough. Unfortunately, Spokane County, taken as a whole, has chosen to grow the opposite direction of walkability – we’re mostly just one big suburb.
The City of Spokane Valley, for instance, weighs feather-lite on the walkability scale – it’s nothing more than strip malls and subdivisions. And what about Mead? With their pristine subdivisions, glorious Ponderosa Pines, and a school system worthy of Suburban Housewives, well, I’m afraid you won’t find walkability up there, either. Liberty Lake, as far as suburbs go, weighs-in heavier than Mead and Spokane Valley on the walkability scale yet fails by most standards if measured objectively. The urbanized unincorporated lands of the county are just more subdivisions and strip malls.
Our central city, however, defies the county’s suburban growth patterns. Our central city has walkable neighborhoods. It has a real downtown. It has streets that prioritize quality of life rather than shuffling vehicles to the suburbs. Yet several candidates for mayor and city council align with our local Realtor’s and support growth patterns that will harm our central city and diminish what distinguishes it from our suburban neighbors. One candidate for mayor even suggested she would support providing infrastructure to developments outside of our city limits.
It is not the City of Spokane’s responsibility to provide infrastructure and traffic relief to those that don’t live within it. Yet most mayoral candidates think it is. The surest way to kill a central city is more traffic lanes and surface parking lots. It’s disappointing there are precious few candidates for our highest offices that understand the factors that contribute to urban vibrancy and, more important, the factors that diminish it.
But we don’t want to be Seattle, right? That’s our final keyword phrase. We’re hearing it a lot from candidates. We don’t want to be Seattle. This utterance signifies a wholesale ignorance of central city urbanity and purposely plays to Spokane’s inferiority complex toward Seattle. The surest way to become Seattle, is to start acting like our suburban neighbors because the prescription that increases quality of life isn’t another subdivision or more vehicular lanes, it’s walkability.
The solutions to improve Spokane already exist, and if you need a task force to tell you what they are, then you’re not qualified to lead the metro’s central city. If you’re unable to explain what it means when you say, “We don’t want to be Seattle,” then you’re not qualified to lead our city. If you support extending our infrastructure into other jurisdictions, then you’re not qualified to lead our city. If you support more vehicular lanes and are anti-road diet, then you are not qualified to lead our city. If you don’t know what walkability means, then you not qualified to lead our city.
Most important, if you don’t know that Spokane — our region’s central city — is the pillar that supports the metro, then you’re not qualified to lead our city.
Here’s a slate of candidates that are qualified to lead Spokane and have the courage to make city-building decisions that reflect and acknowledge our ever-competitive place within a 21st century international economy: