In my last article, I looked at neighborhoods in Spokane that would be cool to live in for people in their twenties. I found three neighborhoods -- Browne's Addition, SoLo (formerly known as the "Lower South Hill") and the Gonzaga/Logan area -- that satisfied my criteria. So I decided to apply most of these same criteria to downtown Spokane to see how it stacked up as a "neighborhood." The one criterion I did discard was "proximity to downtown" -- but only after completing weeks of in-depth investigations and hundreds of interviews with residents, urban-development specialists and small polka-dotted birds that fly through my walls and communicate with me by vibrating my hair follicles while I sleep. This is how I discovered that downtown is, in fact, located downtown; it is therefore quite proximitized to downtown already.
OK, I haven't really been speaking to little birdies. But I did speak to a good number of people to hear firsthand whether downtown Spokane is or is not a cool place to live.
In regard to providing the basic essentials for good living, downtown does a fair job. People mentioned the numerous coffee shops, restaurants, bars, clothing stores, art galleries, theater and live music venues, as well as Riverfront Park, the AMC theatres, Pig Out in the Park, Hoopfest, City Walk and summer's Live at 5.
When I asked what was missing, nearly everyone said "A SUPERMARKET!" The closest supermarkets for people living downtown are the Safeway on Third and the Rosauers near Browne's Addition. Both require a lazy afternoon stroll that can stretch to the following morning when you are loaded down with bags of groceries.
Also missing from downtown (and Spokane in general) are late-night places to eat. One person mentioned visiting Boise and being amazed by the crowds of people hanging out on the streets and in restaurants after the bars had closed. Spokane desperately needs more after-hours options than the Satellite (I love you) and Jack in the Box (ummmh... yeah).
When asked why they live downtown, respondents' primary answer involved being within walking distance (as well as "stumbling distance") to the restaurants, bars and other places mentioned above. Christie, who lives with her husband in the Chateaux apartments off Washington, said, "I love being within a 10-minute walk of Riverfront Park, the Arena, Auntie's, River Park Square, the B-Side, Farmers' Market, and so many restaurants, live music venues and places to shop."
This availability of places within walking distance is especially fortunate for folks living downtown, as their No. 1 complaint was the parking situation. It amazed me that with the vast expanses of surface parking - which, personally, I feel are the single most disheartening aspect of the soul of downtown - that parking would be viewed as a problem. But as a certain downtown-dwelling fellow named Andrew says, "The lots are expensive, and the meter maids are evil."
A surprisingly encouraging topic was that of crime. Many people told me that crime had been their chief concern before moving downtown - yet they quickly discovered that it wasn't nearly as bad as they had feared. Sure, there may be the occasional lady talking smack to a traffic light or a toothless old man offering you drugs, but I'm told that with a simple "Hello, excuse me, goodbye" you can pass over the river, through the woods and safely along to your home.
A viably shady element of living downtown is the available housing. I used to work overnight at a downtown shelter and was once provided an hour-long show by a naked man jumping up and down in his apartment window. Shady means cheap, though, and for people wanting to live in a grittier, "city-er" environment than Browne's or SoLo, it is possible to find habitable apartments for as low as $200 a month.
There are nicer places to rent if you are lucky enough to find one. I heard rumors of deluxe, brick-walled, wood-floored studios along Railroad Alley renting for upwards of $800. I don't know too many people my age who could afford a place like that, but if you can, they do exist.
People bemoaned how empty the streets feel sometimes and cried foul about the proposed leveling of places like Gabby's, Chicken 'n More, Moon Shadow and the Fort Spokane Brewery to provide more surface parking. But they also mentioned the number of new businesses that have opened in downtown over the past couple of years, the steadily growing number of young people moving into the old, character-laden apartments and the potential for more as buildings continue to be restored to their former grandeur.
My final question to each of them was this: "Where will downtown be in five to 10 years?" I was surprised to find that everyone spoke optimistically and said they felt it will only continue to get better and better. For the sake of the 'Kan, let's hope they're right.
Send your hopes, complaints and all the rest about being in your twenties and in Spokane to me at email@example.com.
Publication date: 04/29/04