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The Next 40 Years 

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If you’re a critic long enough, somebody is bound to say, “OK, if you’re so smart, why don’t you fix it.” That’s what happened when Mayor David Condon asked me to work with the Park Board as chairman of the newly formed Riverfront Park Master Plan Advisory Committee.

I’m in.

We’ve been left an amazing gift — the team that brought Expo here nearly 40 years ago left a park unique in perhaps all the world. Mayor Condon and the Park Board are right to recognize that spot fixes aren’t enough; it falls to this generation to leave a legacy that will last at least until some kid born in 2014 becomes mayor. (Yes, Mayor Condon will turn 40 along with Expo.)

Here are some thoughts I plan to work from during this process, which will culminate with a public vote in November of 2014.

OUR STORY In 1974, we invited the world to tell their story here. Now we need to tell our story in the park — the story of the river, the tribes, the trains and, yes, Expo. We’re not good at articulating our local culture; the park is the place to do it.

A SPARK King Cole once told me, “The world’s fair was not to have a party. It was to save downtown.” Updating Riverfront Park needs to create an economic spark for Spokane and the greater region.

AN ACTIVE PARK During Expo, there were hundreds of thousands of people in the park, buying souvenirs and eating hot dogs. The park has plenty of passive space; we need to make it a place people have a reason to visit.

LITTLE THINGS If you were a tourist, would you know where the Spokane Falls were? “Follow the roar” isn’t good enough. Lots of small improvements are needed, like better signage.

THINK BIG We have a rare opportunity and need ideas to match. We have a placid waterfront on the south channel like they do in San Antonio. We have huge green spaces in the city as in Central Park. We have a river falls like, well, like nobody really. We have an iconic centerpiece, and while not quite a Space Needle, it’s pretty cool. The Looff Carrousel, the Red Wagon, the Garbage Goat — we’ve been dealt a great hand.

When Jimmy Carter dedicated Riverfront Park in 1978, he said, “You’ve transformed an area that was declining, that was far short of its great potential, into one of the nation’s most innovative and refreshing urban settings.”

Is that still true? I think we’re well short of our potential, but Carter’s marching orders still apply. Riverfront Park should be one of the nation’s most innovative and refreshing urban settings. 

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