Can development actually preserve "The Woods" for all to enjoy?

Can development actually preserve "The Woods" for all to enjoy?
Caleb Walsh illustration

One day, 20 years ago, hot pink spray-painted X's and plastic tape popped up on the ponderosa pines in the area the neighbor kids and I called "The Woods." On Google Maps, the land doesn't have a name; it's just the blank spot on the map between Pittsburg and 32nd(ish) Avenue on Spokane's South Hill. Even as a kid in the late '90s, I knew what the X's meant, having seen FernGully: The Last Rainforest. The city was going to build. In doing so they would bulldoze trees and erase trails, taking with them the fort the neighbor kids, my brothers and I spent years building on a boulder shrouded in wilting trees left by Ice Storm.

The other kids and I saw ourselves as the protectors of the land. We spent our afternoons picking up litter and building our forts with the crap people dumped there. A mattress with only the springs left became a wall, matched by the second wall made of an old wooden kid's kitchen set. We played like someday we were going to live off the land.

To save our woods, we picked the painted bark off trunks and pulled plastic tape from limbs. In my mind, we were hardcore, and I planned to get arrested if we were caught. I started a petition to block construction and went door to door to get signatures. In the end, I got six, which was the same number of houses away I was allowed to go alone as an 8-year-old.

You probably know we were unsuccessful. After school let out for summer, the neighborhood crew and I sat in the dirt watching as an excavator picked up our boulder fort to drop it 10 feet away, shattering the rock into shards and chunks. I remember the hot tears on my face.

Now, almost 20 years later, Greenstone (the developer of Kendall Yards), wants to build 230 residential units and commercial space on a portion of The Woods. According to Greenstone, the project will feature a "small urban mixed-use neighborhood with a pedestrian focus and extensive trails and open space."

I hold in my heart two steadfast beliefs that conflict where shovel meets dirt: I believe that all people deserve access to an affordable housing. I also believe that the places that make Spokane special are open and accessible public lands.

Here's the rub: The Woods isn't open and accessible to all. Neighbors against Greenstone's proposal say they want to keep the land as it is, which operates like a public park — except it isn't public. It's privately owned with a few faded "No Trespassing" signs that people who live in the primarily white neighborhood have no trouble ignoring, but would people from other neighborhoods or of other races feel so safe? Other neighbors argue that the development will raise crime rates, which is unfounded and downright classist.

To fulfill my childhood dream of keeping the land open and accessible to all means developing it. It's privately owned, so unless it's deemed a wetland, development is inevitable.

In a time with scary-low rental vacancy rates, Spokane needs housing. Greenstone's plans include trail systems that maintain some of the open wooded lands with trails.

I don't have blind trust in developers ever, but there is something for Greenstone to gain in building pedestrian-friendly natural spaces.

If I get a say, I demand Greenstone save land for the buttercups and balsamroots. Save the secret pond. Save the trails on the hills. In development, I hope we can preserve. ♦

Alayna Becker is a writer and comedian who splits her time between Portland, Seattle and the place that has her heart, Spokane.

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