Idea #7: Public Squares

Seattle’s Westlake Park offers a signature gathering place for the city’s residents, tourists, and businesspeople. (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

Spokane should invest in a public downtown gathering place, a public square for its people. Seattle has Westlake Park, shown above. San Francisco has Union Square, below the fold. We believe that a public square should be a priority for downtown as it continues to work to cast off the seedy image of its past.
Continue reading “Idea #7: Public Squares”

The #spokanerising Glossary

PHOTO: CLPhoto

Naturally, urban planning and development is confusing subject for some. It’s not exactly accessible; often, plans and documents are not publicly-available. Then, once you actually get your hands on the documents themselves, they aren’t exactly made for ordinary citizens to easily understand. But planning should be simple; after all, it’s foremost about interactions between people and the built environment. Our goal as a blog is to make these subjects as clear-cut and simple as possible. So today we’re starting a Spokane Urban Development Glossary.

In the near future, this post will turn to a page, which will be easily accessible at all times from the navigation bar. We’ll cover terms specific to urban development, acronyms and plans specific to Spokane, and our own embellishments which we may occasionally add to stories. Some of these embellishments are taken from a variety of sources, including MetroSpokane, the original Spokane development blog from which The #spokanerising Project arguably succeeds. We do this to further reflect our own point of view; that is, that planned development is something to be cherished, and that mixed-use should be preferred to auto-oriented big-box stores and strip malls. In addition, we believe that the Spokane Comprehensive Plan and the guidelines set forth in Centers and Corridors should guide all approved projects within the city. Now, that’s a lot of words. But what do they all mean?

URBAN PLANNING TERMS:

built environment: the human-made surroundings which provide the setting for human activity, ranging in scale from buildings to parks and green space, or from neighborhoods to cities.

mixed-use development: development projects which focus on two or more uses within the site; for example, a building may feature ground floor street-front retail shops and restaurants with apartments on the upper floors.

amenity: aesthetic or other characteristics of a development, either natural or manmade, that increase its desirability to a community or its marketability to the public; for example, a unified building design, recreational facilities, and public art would all be characterized as amenities

infill: generally mixed-use style development which occurs on previously-disturbed land or non-disturbed land within an existing urban area; significant because it does not contribute to urban sprawl.

brownfield: abandoned or underutilized industrial or commercial facilities or sites where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination; for example, Kendall Yards was a brownfield.

SPOKANE-SPECIFIC TERMS/ACRONYMS:

East Sprague Revitalization Project: a project to extensively revitalize East Sprague between Division and Altamont through streetscape enhancements, buffers, facade improvements, etc.

Division Street Gateway: a project planned to extensively revitalize the entry areas to downtown Spokane via Division Street through streetscape enhancements, pedestrian connections, improved signage, etc.

Kendall Yards: large mixed-use project currently being developed by Greenstone between Monroe and beyond Maple on the Spokane River’s North Bank; largest infill project in Spokane’s history.

Walt Worthy: major downtown hotel developer and owner/operator of the Davenport Hotel Collection; currently constructing a Convention Center Hotel directly south of the INB Performing Arts Center.

Centers and Corridors: the document which guides development in areas zoned “Centers and Corridors” (CC1, CC2, CC3); generally an exciting zoning guideline which emphasizes pedestrian uses and “accommodation” or automobiles.

Spokane Comprehensive Plan: the document which guides development in all areas of Spokane, including the types of uses allowed in each zoning guideline and various transit/street plans.

QUIRKY TERMS UNIQUE TO #SPOKANERISING:

the temporary storage of cars: derogatory term for parking, used especially often downtown

the All-Managing Rhombus: Diamond Parking; generally a derogatory term which refers to the unfortunate fact that Diamond Parking manages most of the surface lots in Spokane devoted to the temporary storage of cars; because Diamond Parking has a vested interest in its parking holdings, it generally prefers that these sites, which are prime opportunities for mixed-use infill, not be developed.

To be continued…

If It Had Happened, Part 2: VOX Tower

PHOTO: SkyscraperPage

This week, we bring you one of the better-documented failures of a Spokane development project. The VOX Tower was to be built at 223 W Riverside in the East End/SoDo District. At 32 stories, including 20 stories of residential space spreading across 275 apartments and condos, it would have been the tallest building in Spokane. In addition, it was to include a 380-spot parking garage and 18,000 square feet of retail space. ConoverBond was set to develop the project said to cost $50 million. All was prepared to be complete by 2009 after its 2006 announcement.

But then the project collapsed under the weight of Rob Brewster’s other projects.

—-

For more on the VOX Tower and Rob Brewster, click here for a great summary blog post at SpokUrban. Or click here for a great article on Brewster’s downfall at the Inlander.

Legislature Considers an End to Development Vesting

PHOTO: The Inlander

The Washington State Legislature is currently considering a proposal to end the vesting of developments started during formal appeals of Urban Growth Area expansions. The proposed laws, H.B. 2234 and H.B. 2245, would prevent the types of situations which occurred in 2013 when the Spokane County Commissioners expanded the Urban Growth Area against the objections of numerous community leaders, state and local governments, and neighborhood groups.

Currently, under the state’s Growth Management Act, developers can “vest” projects under the existing rules, even when an appeal is being heard by the Hearings Board. That means that if the County Commission approves an Urban Growth Area expansion, and that decision is appealed to the state, the County must still accept the permits and applications submitted during the gap between the application and appeals hearing. In other words, developers would not be able to use this “back door” method to getting their projects completed, and would be on hold until the appeal is resolved.

The appeal of the 2013 Spokane UGA expansion brought together concerned citizens, community groups like Southgate and Five Mile, and organizations like the Center for Justice. In the end, the appeal won, but 640 lots still made it into the UGA due to vesting. These bills would change that.

We urge you to write to your representatives in support of these bills.

READ MORE:

The Legacy of Expo ’74

PHOTO: Seville Enterprises, Inc.

Even now, Spokane is pretty proud of Expo ’74. As the smallest city to ever host a World’s Fair, we certainly have a right to be proud of the accomplishment. #spokanerising does its part with an Expo 74-inspired favicon and social media icons. But Expo really did clean up our dilapidated downtown. It really did relocate dozens of acres of railroad facilities, and it really did permanently throw our “Skid Row” of sorts, West Trent (now Spokane Falls Boulevard), out of the picture. Our Fair was the first ever to have an environmental theme, “Celebrating Tomorrow’s Fresh New Environment.” And no less, we had the chutzpah to celebrate the planet in an era defined by the consumption and excess of a steadily-growing American middle class. It was a bold statement on the part of a bold city.

But what is the legacy of Expo ’74? What has been the lasting benefit to our city and region?

Continue reading “The Legacy of Expo ’74”

Link Spokane: An Integrated Approach to Planning

PHOTO: The Inlander

In 2014, the Spokane Comprehensive Plan, essentially the guiding document for all development that takes place in the city, will be extensively revised. As part of this major initiative, the City has unveiled Link Spokane, the integrated transportation and utility component of the Comprehensive Plan, in a surprisingly well-produced brochure.

The plan makes note of various “best practices” in comprehensive transportation and utilities planning, even citing such case studies as the Crestline project, which took place during the summer and fall of 2013. That project brought a new road surface, 36-inch water main, and various utilities and stormwater improvements and enhancements as part of the City of Spokane’s new integrative approach to investment.

In addition, the document addresses plans for transit enhancements, from bus rapid transit (which we oppose as a sole solution) to streetcars. Interestingly, it does not address the need for a major region-wide transit improvement like light rail, which was narrowly rejected by voters in 2006 in an advisory vote and has not since gotten much attention from groups outside of InlandRail. Still, light rail as a concept remains exceptionally tantalizing, especially given studies that show that bus rapid transit and other “non-fixed” transit modes result in less transit-oriented development than similar fixed modes, such as light rail, heavy rail, and rapid transit. Unfortunately, it seems that short-sightedness within the revised Comprehensive Plan will again rule the day.

To voice your concerns and express your support for regional light rail and city-wide transit and transportation investment as part of a holistic Comprehensive Plan, you can attend one of several drop-in community workshops.

  • Tuesday, February 4 from 4:00p-6:30p at the NorthTown Mall Division Street Entrance (Level 1)
  • Wednesday, February 5 from 12:00p-6:30p at Southside Christian Church (2934 E 27th Ave)
  • Friday, February 7 from 11:30a-6:30p at River Park Square on the Lakes

In addition, on Thursday, February 6 from 6:00p-7:00p, you can watch live on CityCable5 and call-in to voice your concerns.

We are a growing Spokane, and we deserve a transit system that understands these realities. It’s time for transportation investment that recognizes the potential that exists when bus rapid transit, light rail, streetcars, electric trolley buses, traditional buses, and all other modes work together. It’s time for us to build a better Spokane.

Idea #6: Popup Art Galleries

Spokane has its share of vacant and abandoned buildings. Fortunately, it also has a wealth of artists and designers. What happens when you put the two together? Enter a plan for popup storefront art galleries highlighted in last week’s Inlander. The idea is to develop “a corridor that carries visitors from one lively part of town to another by getting art into…empty storefronts on First Avenue.” Terrain co-founder Ginger Ewing and Laboratory owner Alan Chatham are spearheading this plan, which they believe will help make the pedestrian experience in downtown Spokane much more pleasant and enjoyable–and perhaps even safer. We just hope that it will get an airing from building owners.

The full article, including more of the excellent artwork featured above by Collin Hayes, is available here at the Inlander.

If It Had Happened, Part 1: 153 South Wall

PHOTO: Prium Companies

This Thursday we bring you Week 1 of a multi-week series focused on projects that would have happened had the economy not crashed. Many of the projects that we will profile were ongoing at the same time as each other, and as such, something had to give. There couldn’t be ten new major downtown high-rises at once, could there?

Indeed, there couldn’t.

Today we feature 153 South Wall, a project which was originally proposed in July of 2006 during the height of the downtown residential boom. The lot, purchased by Prium Companies of Tacoma for $750,000, would have been developed into 126 condominiums, with about seven floors of parking atop two floors of street front retail. In June of 2007, the project was shelved due to high construction costs. The lot was apparently sold to Inland Northwest Health Systems in July of 2009, although the site is still being used primarily as a parking lot.

Of course, this is exactly the type of infill project that Spokane so desperately needs, and we wish that it could have come to fruition.

To read more on 153 S. Wall, visit the Spokesman here or Prium Companies here. You can also see the Inlander here for a good article on the circumstances surrounding its shelving.

Shame on you, KHQ

A recognizable voice takes on a hostile inflection. Provocative questions are raised as questions appear on-screen. “More state funding is needed…but at what cost? And why does Spokane need this when STA routes are already in place?”

Barring the fallacious nature of that question (Who or what gives KHQ the authority to say that STA has sufficient route coverage? Isn’t that for STA and urban planners to decide?), it is clear the KHQ has overstepped its bounds with the promotion of this story. The role of the news media is to inform the public; not inform the public opinion. By taking a clearly anti-trolleybus stance in the run-up to Thursday, the station has chosen to pass judgment and deliberately influence the opinions of citizens. But their role as a news agency is not to tell viewers what is right or wrong. It is to tell viewers, clearly and precisely, the news. And only the news. Their job is to report, not to reflect.

Now, even if their main story finds that the trolleybus proposal is a good one that should be funded, a majority of their viewers, who do not watch KHQ Local News but do turn in for NBC primetime, will be under the impression that the plan is a bad one that should be tossed out. Simply because the promotional said as much.

We decry this shoddy communications tactic, and urge KHQ to make a full apology, post-haste. If you respect responsible journalism and envision a greater transportation future for Spokane than simply road improvements, we urge you to visit KHQ’s Facebook Page and leave a note in support of transit alternatives and opposing their ridiculous ad. And don’t forget to watch the story on Thursday and tell them what you think. The local media should not take sides in these critical debates about our city’s future. They should report the news. Only the news.

READ MORE:

Bennett Block to be Redeveloped Soon

nystrom + olson architecture is designing this remodel of the Bennett Block between West Main and West Spokane Falls Boulevard. Construction should be underway shortly, as demolition of the old Cyrus O’Leary’s restaurant is now complete. We love these new designs—they’re exactly what is necessary for this area to do well. Frankly, the renderings look somewhat similar to the Cannery in San Francisco.

The eventual and likely next step to infilling West Main? A mid-rise to high-rise brick building next door on the site of a current Diamond Parking lot and the reconstruction of the Howard-Spokane Falls and Stevens Spokane Falls intersections. Get on it, Ron Wells.