I went for a ride the other day. This is unusual for me as I am most comfortable as the driver. However I had partaken in one too many weed caramels early in the day and I was happily stoned and unable to be the normal, controller of car destiny. So, this day, I got to observe.
“Look at the cars!”, I exclaimed. Like a little kid I kept pointing to the newer, shiny cars every where. “Holy shit! That was an Alfa Romeo!” I couldn’t get over it. In my town.
Before you dismiss me as some small town hick, I am talking about Spokane – a growing metropolis in Eastern Washington. We have over 500k living in our county. But until the last 15 years the economy was stagnant. The World’s Fair in 1974 brought a ton of workers to Spokane, buildings went up overnight, families moved from around the area and across the country. But after the World’s Fair packed up and left, it left behind a population of unemployed. Spokane did not suddenly become a center of commerce and industry as it was, after all, still annoyingly far out east.
So the west side of Washington thrived while Spokane became the dumping ground for Washington’s criminals, particularly its sex offenders. We got the short end of the stick politically and when State funding was given out, we got the crumbs. Spokane held on as the place Canadian’s came to buy tax free presents at the mall and, eventually, a the closest place to find a Costco within 250 miles.
No longer. Rising real estate prices have pushed industry eastward and Spokane is now a rising metropolis. Suddenly we have a 4 star hotel, stores like Free People and anthropologie. Downtown has filled with condos. We are building a medical school complex that will service both Gonzaga and WSU. Neighborhoods that were formerly known as the “ghetto” near downtown are instead having coffee shops, gyms, and boutiques sprout up in them. As a result, neighborhoods that were formerly quiet, middle class enclaves have become the new ghetto complete with drug use, gangs, and graffiti as the poor are pushed out of their prime downtown spots to places like 29th & Grand or Shadle Center.
And downtown has the same divide only in circles. In the middle you can buy a $9 latte in a vintage brick building with “vintage look” light fixtures bought at Restoration Hardware for $499 each and in five minutes and two traffic lights buy and shoot heroin in front of the gas station on 3rd street while traffic whips by.
Spokane has put tons of money into things like beautifying the off-ramps downtown and marketing their town as “Near Nature, Near Perfect”. They rallied hard for the medical school to be built here, on the East side of the State. Roads are slowly disappearing in congested areas and Spokane begins its life as a “walking friendly town”. (No one stops to think that by getting us out of our cars they are encouraging us to spend more money)
But much like the good ole days when Spokane had a Grand Prix right through downtown and hot air balloons set aloft from the greens in Riverfront Park, they spent in the wrong places. Under the freeway, down the back alley, in the ghetto apartment by the courthouse – a place well known as “Felony Flats”- it is still Spokane. It is a mental health care crisis at a breaking point. It is a gang crisis that rose out of the lack of police funding in the late 1980’s and 90’s. It is a heroin crisis that looks a hell of a lot like the crack cocaine epidemic we felt so good about conquering.
Spokane is the kind of place where the housewives all have dirty little secrets and we are just driving about to Trader Joe’s and Hot Yoga hoping ‘Apple’ and ‘Jannika’ don’t find out about our probation officer or cocaine addiction or tattoos or that we were homeless when our husband was laid off last year.
Spokane has a lot going for it – as long as you don’t pick at the edges.