Are you exhausted? Exhausted of this pandemic and its isolation? Exhausted of having a hundred-year national financial crisis or environmental crisis every 10 years? Exhausted of national politics that seek division and not collaboration? Exhausted of the national media who give opinion disguised as news? Exhausted of social media bitterness and anger? Well, me too. What do we do about it? With all that is around us to cause despair, I am reminded when I look out my window of how grateful I am for the place we all call home. There is something hopeful about Spokane — how it is constantly reinventing itself. When we emerge from this pandemic, in Spokane it will be with momentum.
A few of the key components are in place for Spokane to take the next step. The reinvestment into Riverfront Park has turned out amazing. Spokane International Airport has seen incredible improvements to facilities and direct flight routes this past decade. Our efforts to clean up the river with our CSO tank project is almost complete. Even our streets have appropriate funding sources now, and the Complete Streets concept is improving bike and pedestrian access at the same time. But there is still work to be done.
It starts with our community’s front room: downtown Spokane. Our employment, retail, tourism and gathering center is amazing, but parking is not. Parking studies will tell you we have enough, but most of our experiences trying to find it tell you otherwise. And if we cannot access it conveniently, we stop going. The city should build two municipal parking structures — one on each end of downtown. This should assist in the development of additional downtown housing and culinary experiences and promote retail.
We are great at events: Bloomsday, Hoopfest, Pig Out and Terrain. Let’s make more of them. Some natural concepts that seem to be lacking are a European-style Christmas market, a summer music festival and a more national event like South by Southwest that brings together leaders in entertainment, technology, arts and more.
Another idea: Close down Post Street from River Park Square to the Davenport on weekends for food, art and live entertainment; create our own Beale Street like Memphis. A place that you know you can always go to find something to do and that attracts people to visit Spokane for the same reason.
Decentralize some the homeless services from downtown. Whether by planning or accident, most of the homeless services for our region landed on Second and Third Street. They are needed, but let’s fairly disburse these important services across the area.
Spokane housing is feeling the effect of COVID-19: a pandemic-heightened housing shortage. The ability for people to live where they want and still have the job that they want accelerated during the outbreak. As a result, the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene area has a record number of folks moving into the area. This is driving up housing prices and creating a shortage in inventory. We must expand the Growth Management Boundary and change zoning to promote density around our city centers. Affordable housing is a benchmark of a healthy community.
Everyone seems to have a strong take on public transit and on the Spokane Transit Authority (STA) in particular. I’m a fan. I moved here with no car and used STA to travel from school at EWU to work in the Spokane Industrial Park in the Valley. To get to the next step, STA needs greater frequency on more routes. Public transit must be convenient to be truly successful. I would also make it free. Fee collection makes up about 20 percent of overall revenue; by the time you factor out costs associated with collection and money handling, it might be worth eliminating fees to increase ridership.
The communities who took this past year to plan for what comes next after this pandemic, to thrive rather than just survive, will become apparent later this year. I hope we have. In the meantime, go out and support your local businesses and restaurants. Enjoy Spokane’s front room instead of the one in your home — it is inspiring. Spokane gives us all hope. ♦
Michael Allen, a business and entrepreneurship professor at Spokane Community College, is a former associate athletic director at Eastern Washington University. A longtime Republican, he previously served six years on the Spokane City Council.