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Growing Pains 

When the only constant is change itself, we'd best saddle up and make the most of it

  • Caleb Walsh illustration

At the turn of the previous century, non-native businessmen and people living on the land promoted the Inland Northwest as a unique region to attract the capital and sweat equity of their fellow Americans. With Spokane at its core, people anticipated rapid growth and national prominence. Since that time, dwindling natural resources and globalization resulted in Spokane's slower growth, which incidentally preserved the foundation for our emerging modern appeal. As we move past the Wall Street recession that stifled the launch of the 21st century economy, it is again time to co-create a bold new vision for what growth means in our community.

click to enlarge mariahmckay.jpg

Urban Spokane is experiencing an unprecedented surge of construction. With key streets finally getting upgraded and more road projects on the way, it's exciting to anticipate what will emerge when the dust settles. Every week brings a new open house, or public meeting to seek comment on upcoming development. Suggestions to deliver the North-South Corridor as a freight-serving boulevard, instead of a traditional freeway, are an early sign that we may be ready to grow in new ways.

We've spent the past decade and a half inching toward our potential, and the closer we get, the more anxieties rise about our golden moment passing us by. Spokane is one of the last affordable urban areas in the Northwest, and the headwinds of growth are blowing in our direction. Will they consume us like wildfire? When a recent blog post about "12 Reasons to Relocate to Spokane" was making the rounds, demands to keep our success a secret were more urgent than ever. But exactly what, or who, are we hiding from?

Done in a directed way, growth can make things better for people who already live here. New rental housing can meet the demands of our low-vacancy market and help keep prices down. Fortunately, permits for new housing downtown are on the rise, but questions remain about workforce affordability. New people moving to our region can bring sorely needed skills, perspectives and cultural resources. While we have much to be proud of, we're not the only city growing from the inside out, and we need to compete globally to attract the leadership and sustainable industries needed to keep our region strong in the face of a hollow economy, stultifying national politics and the threat of climate change.

Working to shape growth in the interests of our future, instead of stonewalling change based on its potential to go wrong, requires intense participation and sticking to a higher standard of what's possible. An example of this is the future McDowell tower development in Peaceful Valley. What started as a dysfunctional process that cut neighbors out and motivated intense opposition to the project has evolved into residents strategically meeting with representatives to address concerns and lobby for amenities that improve the favorability of the development.

Do we have the courage and determination to plan for our success instead of sticking to the cynicism that has perpetuated our plateaus? You decide. By participating in the future of our region instead of decrying change, we stand the best chance to finally get growth right. ♦

Mariah McKay is a fourth-generation daughter of Spokane and a community organizer campaigning for racial, social and economic justice. She currently serves as a public health advocate.

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