Some headlines that caught my eye over the past week: suburban malls are struggling, according to our own lead news story; the City of Spokane and the Greenstone corporation won the statewide Livable Community Award for Kendall Yards and the extension of the Centennial Trail; and the Spokane City Council is taking a hard line against sprawl by closing a loophole in growth management rules.
Spokane and the Inland Northwest are perched on the verge of what's next. We may not know exactly what that is, but we do know it will be different. It needs to be better, and only wise decisions will help us find the correct path.
Suburban malls are suffering for a variety of reasons, but one is that habits are changing — more people are being drawn to vibrant, urban places instead of cookie-cutter strip malls. Kendall Yards is proving that people want to live closer to the core. Across the street from my office, Greenstone is finishing up 24 small apartments; I'm told 80 people are on the waiting list. Their townhouses are selling out, too. Meanwhile, after annexing and extending outward for years, the city council wants to hold up any extension of city services to plats that violate the spirit of managed growth. A fight's brewing, as the mayor considers whether to veto the change.
It reminds me of the time back in 2006 when we wrote about another iffy project, and quoted a county planner saying, "the basic tenet is you should be able to do with your property whatever you want to do." That didn't sit well with old King Cole, and on his 84th birthday he called me and started speaking in Latin: Sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas. He recited the phrase he learned in law school, which dates back to English common law, meaning, "use your own property so as not to harm others." And sprawl can be harmful.
But Cole wasn't objecting to the project; he just wanted the people of the city he loved not to buy that party line. Absolute property rights built a bunch of suburban strip malls across America that are emptying out today. But stopping everything runs the risk of derailing the economic development we need.
If King Cole were alive today, he'd be asking me to remind everyone that we all have rights here — the citizens have a right to the commons as much as property owners have a right to develop their land. It falls to every generation of leaders to accommodate both sets of rights and find the balance that allows us all to thrive together. ♦