Last week’s cover story, “The Big Bang,” by Daniel Walters, hit that familiar tone we often feel in Spokane — hopeful over the many good things happening, but never feeling like we’re quite “there” yet. There is exciting innovation breaking out, but why is it such a struggle? If you care about local economic development, it’s a must-read. (Check it out at Inlander.com.)
Daniel struck the right balance between the people who say not-so-delicate things about Spokane — “the poster child of unmet expectations, unrealized potential and unrelenting mediocrity,” as one report flamingly put it — and the people bursting with optimism that’s charming, but not always moored to reality. Around here, if you’re too much a Debbie Downer, you’re a naysayer. But it’s also true that if you ignore reality, you’re just a clueless Pollyanna.
And to the greater world — the other cities, states and nations we compete with — Spokane has to make a case, with Pollyanna’s confidence, that the Inland Northwest is perfectly poised for success. We have a great quality of life, located near the Pacific Rim, with an expanding range of higher ed options, robust health care and the kind of cultural amenities you don’t often find in cities this size.
But to ourselves — among family — we’ve got to be real. We can’t believe our own PR too much. Yes, we have a University District. It should be the most important thing since Expo. But what kinds of degree programs will it feature, and will WSU work with us? Pharmacy coming from Pullman was great; Interdisciplinary Design moving back to Pullman, not so much.
The U-District’s buildings are cool, but it’s what goes on inside them that will make all the difference.
Business incubation is another important but little-understood facet detailed in “The Big Bang.” Now we have the Innovation Center instead of SIRTI. Is it better? Did we lose something in the translation? What’s the best way to cultivate new ideas so they can become viable local businesses?
We also have to deal with the city’s most basic elements with eyes wide open. Our roads are embarrassing, the entrances to our city, shocking. (Have you seen the weed garden at Division and Third?) Our arts institutions, law enforcement and public schools are all facing very stiff challenges, too.
“Unrelenting mediocrity” is way off base, but it should grab your attention. I see surprising bursts of excellence all over this community, but they’re too often just that — bursts. If we could coordinate and funnel all that economic vitality toward common progress, Spokane could, as local entrepreneur Chris Kelly told us, start “spiraling upwards.”