City budgets aren't the only bankrupt accounts in the Inland Northwest these days. Anyone who has attended one of those innumerable economic powwows lately knows that area leaders and talking heads have emptied their piggy banks of almost all the bright ideas they have for the region. While the entire country struggles for footing on shifting economic sands, the city of Spokane is mired in an identity crisis, and the fledgling City of Spokane Valley government is still trying to figure out how to provide basic services to its new constituents. Over in North Idaho, Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls are facing the benefits and drawbacks of rapid growth.

Sure, things look a little rough right now, but like the Chinese, we view crisis as one part danger and one part opportunity. While local heroes and free marketers try to stanch the bleeding of the here and now, we'd like to urge them all, standing at the crossroads, to step back and Think Big. That's why we've compiled this list of our own Big Ideas for the region, to help jump-start a brainstorm of progressive, out-there, forward-thinking pipe dreams.

After all, modern-day Spokane was built on the foresight and brave thinking of its earliest settlers. What was James Glover thinking, for instance, as he paced across open fields of bunchgrass and wildflowers and measured out Riverside Avenue, a street wide enough to accommodate traffic Glover never could have anticipated? Aubrey White thought big; so did Louis Davenport. The former built an award-winning city park system in Spokane because he knew that it might soon be too late to do so. The latter built one of the nation's grandest hotels in a little backwater frontier town.

More recently, little Spokane threw together a successful World's Fair when no one thought it could. And though it's only now becoming recognized as a big idea, we suspect the city's implementation and innovative use of the broad wireless HotZone will go down as one of its biggest, most revolutionary ideas to date.

And that's just the kind of thinking we're reaching for: the kinds of big ideas that make up the textures of our communities. The kinds of plans that will make people wonder in 50 years, "What would this area have been like without (fill in the blank)?" Ours may not the be the most original or brilliant or even the most plausible ideas -- in fact, our criteria roundly dismiss realistic obstacles as mere obstructionism. The point is, to borrow that loathsome old phrase, to think "outside the box." To plan for the future before it's too late. To think of what the Inland Northwest could be, instead of settling for what it is at the moment.

So put on your Big Idea Thinking Cap, and read on. We hope all this gets you thinking, too. Please join the conversation by sending us your Big Ideas at We'll publish your comments on our big ideas and any big ideas you might have in an upcoming issue.

You can check out all of our big ideas in the Arts & Culture section of

Publication date: 1/20/04

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About The Author

Joel Smith

Joel Smith is the media editor for The Inlander. In that position, he manages and directs and edits all copy for the website, the newspaper and all other special publications. A former staff writer, he has reported on local and state politics, the environment, urban development and culture, Spokane's...