Wall Off Sprawl

by PAUL K. HAEDER & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & was going to pen a bitter commentary on the Southgate debacle, zeroing in on our city council members. We have the gavel-worshipping council president who warns the public to not waste his time; the councilman who doesn't believe in global warming -- so there!; the one who doesn't understand how science can tell us what grasses and shrubs were here before photography; and a fourth whose irate neighbors walked him through the definition of "slumlord."

Easy pickings. For now, it's time to focus on exactly how our city might learn why neighborhood planning and comprehensive plans are where it's at.

Some municipalities call the effort to apply land use policies, encourage green building design and mandate less earth-killing materials for construction projects a "wall against sprawl."

That wall -- constructed with neighborhoods' hands as a force to secure their futures -- provides five enhancements. The first is that creating more compact, dense and diverse mixed-use developments keeps neighbors around to drop money into local coffers.

Then, by designing bicycle and walking corridors, you get better air quality with the reduction of car traffic. More goods and services in one location mean one-stop shopping. The physical and spiritual health of people improves when you take people out of automobiles and let them put soles to pavement and heels to pedals. They get quality public gathering places.

Third, the spiraling price of gasoline -- $7 a gallon by 2010 by many analysts' predictions -- becomes less of a household concern when stores, shops, services and community public spaces are close to thousands of residents.

The last two keystones go back to citizen participation. Neighborhood planning is about organizing residents and seeking their input throughout the planning process. This mobilizes citizens to articulate their concerns and interests and balances power against broader economic forces by promoting citizen influence over local government activities.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & any cities have used neighborhood planning to help promote healthy and less fossil-fuel-dependent futures. Chicago, San Jose, Austin and Rochester have been recently cited by groups including the American Planning Association (APA) and Urban Land Institute (ULI) as successfully building partnerships between planners, governments and neighborhoods.

Serving under three mayors as Seattle's Director of the Department of Neighborhoods, Jim Diers wrote Neighbor Power: Building Community the Seattle Way, a book that touched people around the world, including our former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros: "One of the most hopeful signs for the revitalization of American cities... is the neighborhood movement which is sweeping communities across America," Cisneros wrote.

The key to successful cities' citizen input is to have neighborhoods follow the core values set by comprehensive plans. This can include framing growth by upholding the values of protecting the community, social equity, environment and economic opportunities, and security for local businesses.

Spokane isn't neighborhood-friendly and is far from strident in helping neighborhoods plan their futures. We are seeing an appeal of the City Council's 6-to-1 vote in favor of disregarding the Planning Commission's decision to not grant land-use amendments to accommodate big-box development on those three parcels (45 acres) on the South Hill.

Mayor Mary Verner virtually voted for the big-box development, not just by not vetoing the council's decision, but by not voting at all.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & was one of the participants of a two-day planning workshop (called a charrette in planning circles, but this one could have been called a charade) to be part of a 15-delegate team representing the interests of the Southgate Neighborhood.

On the other side were land owners, a Home Depot representative from Oklahoma, the developers, architects, one virtually mute WSU professor and, of course, the lawyers working to bring Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot or any big box possible to Spokane.

The City's Planning Department billed the neighborhood, the big box contingent and the citizens of Spokane more than $15,000 to have Studio Cascade facilitate a flawed-from-the-start mitigation workshop.

The Southgate neighborhood is a diverse group of folks not of the NIMBY (not in my back yard) persuasion. They want an urban village design for all three parcels of land, and they want viable businesses and services there. They have a holistic approach to neighborhood planning; they're aware of the economic blight the Targets and Home Depots of the world spread over local small businesses.

Unfortunately, Spokane is hobbled by dozens of old-century politicians and movers and shakers bent on shoddy plans and meteoric tax revenues. Thank goodness election season is upon us.

Paul K. Haeder teaches at SFCC and has a weekly radio show on KYRS.