Spokane is a city of districts. Here’s how to realize their potential.

timthumb.php
The Garland District, in Spokane’s North Hill neighborhood, is one of its oldest urban districts, and one of its most beloved. But what could be done to highlight the many and varied urban districts which make up our city? (PHOTO: Garland District)
Spokane is a city of districts.

Garland. South Perry. Browne’s Addition. North Monroe. University District. North Bank. Hillyard. East Sprague. Lincoln Heights. Southgate. Indian Trail. Northwest. West Central. Peaceful Valley. Rockwood. Logan.

In more ways than one, Spokane is more of a city of districts than we realize. Perhaps it’s a result of the way they developed. Some of the neighborhood districts began as separate cities, like Hillyard. Perhaps it’s a result of their present situation. Some of the “urban” districts don’t seem “urban” at all. Many of them are seas of surface parking, wider-than-necessary streets, and near-to-nonexistent pedestrian facilities. Occasionally there are crime issues, or little in the way of retail, or no transit service. Almost always, these urban districts are purely commercial; they don’t contain any residential units. And there’s rarely a “there” there. The urban districts don’t seem to be anything special because they aren’t yet seen as places in their own right.

But we can change that. Here’s how.

1. Mix up the uses. As noted above, most of Spokane’s urban districts are, in essence, commercial districts. There’s little in the way of housing, aside from the single-family residential areas which often surround them. For these districts to thrive, they need more people, and that means apartments, condos, and townhomes. There’s certainly enough space. We know that Spokane will see demand for 3,000 more units over the next three years. Let’s make sure that as many of those units are in urban districts as possible.

2. Get rid of parking minimums. Parking minimums essentially require a certain amount of parking per square foot. They’re in place in most urban districts, but they should be abolished. These regulations result in more parking than is necessary, and parking takes up valuable space that otherwise could be used for more housing, retail, or other development. And perhaps most importantly, they harm urban vitality and walkability, and they make the districts driving destinations, rather than walking destinations, which relates to the next point.

3. Feet first. Develop these urban centers with a focus on walkability first. These areas should primarily serve not the entire Spokane community, but the local neighborhoods. That means that there should be a strong sidewalk network, curb bulb-outs, and street trees. Traffic calming, combined with pedestrian improvements, will improve the sense of place and make the district more desirable.

4. Build a sense of place. Beyond those strategies can be above, this can be achieved with relatively simple steps involving minimal investment. Things like trash cans, a fresh coat of paint, better crosswalks, benches, bike racks, and lower speed limits can go a long way. Beyond that, wayfinding and entry signage can better distinguish the area from its surroundings. For more money, a district could opt for streetscape enhancements, public squares (Garland has amazing potential for this!), or perhaps signature features, like neon lighting.

5. Let businesses band together. East Sprague recently created a Business Improvement District (BID) as part of the City of Spokane’s Targeted Investment Pilot program. The BID will essentially organize and tax local businessowners to provide services, like street tree maintenance, graffiti removal, wayfinding, and other maintenance improvements. It will also advertise and market the district, both to developers and to Spokane residents. Other districts, like Garland and North Monroe, should have the opportunity to create their own business improvment districts. That way, businesses will be able to take on more of their own revitalization. And even if these organizations aren’t BIDs, simple associations could unify the districts’ messages and marketing.

6. Create sub-area plans for each district. The Logan District on the Hamilton Corridor recently completed planning for the Hamilton Form-Based Code, which essentially is a subarea plan for the area around Mission and Hamilton. We need to develop subarea plans for each of the urban districts, highlighting plans for the next twenty-five years in Garland, the North Bank, West Broadway, and Hillyard. Some areas already have these plans in place. Others don’t. In all cases, however, there hasn’t been much in the way of implementation. Let’s fix that.

7. Work with developers. It’s time for Neighborhood Services to develop a clear, coherent strategy for partnering and finding or creating incentives for developers. Ideally, this would focus on multifamily apartment units with streetfront retail. Incentives need not be large. Even “fast-tracking” the planning process can be an incentive. But the fact is that we need to work with developers to revitalize our urban districts. Neighborhood Services, because it has deep experience in each neighborhood, would be well-placed to act as this bridge between residents and investors.

8. Grow small business. South Perry wouldn’t be South Perry without The Shop, or South Perry Pizza, or Perry Street Brewing. Garland wouldn’t be Garland without the Milk Bottle. North Monroe wouldn’t be North Monroe without the Boulevard Mercantile. And West Central wouldn’t be West Central without Batch Bakeshop. Many of these businesses were catalysts in their respective neighborhoods’ revitalizations. In order for the districts to thrive, we need to make things easy for small, local business. Can you imagine if we offered microloans or other incentives? Can you imagine if we eased businesses in urban districts through permitting processes, making opening a business faster and less expensive? We need to find a way to concentrate local business in these centers. This could be how.

9. Triage potential infill sites. Develop a comprehensive database of potential infill sites within urban districts. Include all of the relevant information: current ownership, zoning, associated incentives, property value, property tax rates, infrastructure maps, median incomes, (in some cases) daily traffic, and area vacancy rates. Make the database public. But hire a staffer or two at the City of Spokane to maintain the database and work with developers to negotiate and develop properties. You know, economic development work. Ideally, this work would come with a budget and the ability to create new incentives. Limit the work at first to the urban districts. Call it a pilot project. In the future, it could be expanded city-wide.

Revitalizing and recapturing every urban district in Spokane will take an extreme level of vision, foresight, and cooperation on the part of all stakeholders. It will also take some risk-taking on the part of private individuals and developers. But if it pays off, even in just a few areas, the result will be a more vibrant, more exciting Spokane for everyone.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: What do you think? Is Spokane a city of districts? Do you think that any of these strategies could help recapture and reinvent our urban districts into vibrant, exciting urban places for all? Would you live in an urban district? Which one’s your favorite? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, or in the comments below. We love to hear from you.

What could help the Garland District become more vibrant, like South Perry?

Spokane’s Garland District has a second-run movie theater, specialty retail shops and services, iconic buildings like the Milk Bottle, and popular and exciting events like the Garland Block Party. So why does it always play second-fiddle to South Perry?

The South Perry District on Spokane’s South Hill has become a vibrant, exciting neighborhood since the 1990s, with hip restaurants and trendy, eclectic retailers, and further expansion incoming. It’s become a sort of model for other areas of town, a brilliant success story of a district’s revitalization. The Spokesman-Review thinks that the Thursday Market played a big role, and I’m inclined to agree.

But what does that mean for our other major neighborhoods? The Spokesman article and a suggestion from Facebook fan Caleb Ingersoll made me start wondering: what could help the Garland District reach the same level of vibrancy, excitement, and virality? They already have a Street Fair, a Block Party that sounds like something that belongs in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, and a second-run movie theatre. They also have the really cool and historic Milk Bottle, a sort of Spokane landmark. On paper, Garland should be blowing South Perry out of the water. But that’s not happening. Garland always seems to play second-fiddle to South Perry.

Why?

I want to know what you think. Post your comments below in our comments section or on Facebook. Is it the lack of a destination Farmers’ Market? Do they need more hip restaurants and retailers? Streetscape improvements? Residential units? Let me know what you think.

Will the South Perry District finally gain urban-style residential units?

This pit at 907 S. Perry in the South Perry District has been empty for months. What's going on?
This pit at 907 S. Perry in the South Perry District has been empty for months. What’s going on?

The South Perry District easily makes the list of Spokane’s favorite neighborhood retail centers. It’s small, pedestrian-friendly, and inviting. And while it’s a great area, some lament that it doesn’t have enough quality housing for those who desire to be close to South Perry Pizza, Casper Fry, and Perry Street Brewing, among others. But a major construction project planning to get underway shortly could quickly change that. And perhaps teach Spokane a lesson about density in the process.

KCLH, a Spokane development firm led in part by principal Harold Preiksaitis (who happens to also be a local doctor) plans to build a $1.3 million, two-story, 13,000 square foot mixed use building at 907 S. Perry. On this empty lot. In this pit. The company tentatively plans to build lower-floor spaces for a restaurant and a medical practice, with residential units on the upper floor. While no permits have yet been received by the city, negotiations with tenants were underway last fall. While construction was scheduled to begin then, we’re thinking it was held up by weather and slow tenant negotiations.

Does anyone have any additional information on this planned South Perry mixed-use? Let us know by commenting below, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We’d love to hear from you.

Craft beer takes center stage as the local brewery scene explodes

Perry Street Brewing, one of several recent brewery openings, has attracted widespread attention and praise in recent weeks and months as it makes a name for itself in the South Perry District.
Perry Street Brewing, one of several recent brewery openings, has attracted widespread attention and praise in recent weeks and months as it makes a name for itself in the South Perry District. (PHOTO: KREM)

We realize that The #spokanerising Project focuses primarily on livability, urban development, and quality of life, but sometimes quality of life means something more than walkable neighborhoods and achieving urban density. It’s about the prevailing lifestyle of an area, how people choose to spend their time, where their passions lie. It’s about food, culture, entertainment, activities, and vibrancy. And so we pose the question. Has anyone else noticed that Spokane’s brewery scene has exploded recently?

Two breweries (Ponderosa Brewery and Young Buck Brewing) will be sharing the space previously occupied by Spokane Public Market, and another (Empire Brewing Company) will be opening at some as-yet-unnamed location. This in addition to the breweries either opened or substantially retooled in the past few years (NoLi, Iron Goat, Ramblin’ Road, Orlison, Budge Brothers, River City, Perry Street, etc.). Other would-be brewers have started crowdfunding campaigns in order to raise funds, some with more success than others. These breweries contribute to a sense of urban vitality and help develop Spokane’s unique culture. In cities like Portland and Seattle, local brewpubs and craft breweries play an important role in building a cohesive city identity. The same could be true for SpokaneWith all of our recent brewery openings and more on the way, it’s clear that beer makes Spokane a better place to live.

Craft Beer Week runs until Saturday, May 18. Local breweries are running specials, tastings, classes, and other cool and special events all week, so be sure to get out and get a sense of our local scene.

What do you think? Can beer play an important role in establishing a city identity from which to draw pride? Do craft breweries make Spokane a better place to live? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, on this blog, or in person. We love to hear from you.

South Perry drug bust garage set for pedestrian-friendly studio-style space

This garage was the site of a drug bust several years ago. Now it's on the market.
This garage was the site of a drug bust about a year ago. Now it’s on the market.

Remember this garage? You know, the one in South Perry that was the site of a massive drug bust almost exactly a year ago? Well, it’s now on the market, and new owner NAI Black (think Dave Black) is looking for businesses that would be interested in moving into a brand new studio-style space. Zoned CC1-NC (Neighborhood Commercial within a “pedestrian-oriented, auto-accommodating” District Center), the 11,700 sf parcel is set for a pretty nice-looking 5,000 sf building with two suites that should fit in well with the new Perry Street Brewing/Woolnik’s Building. There’s a nice, wide sidewalk, street trees, garage-style doors, and a small parking lot in the rear. And while it’s unclear right now which businesses James Black is eyeing as tenants, dining, retail, and office (think architecture studio) is all on the table.

Jump after the break for the site plan and a nice-looking rendering.

Continue reading “South Perry drug bust garage set for pedestrian-friendly studio-style space”

TONIGHT: Summit for Neighborhood Fairness, Part II

The South Perry District is frequently cited as one of the “most livable” or “best” or “coolest” neighborhoods in Spokane. Will future development follow the pattern of South Perry or Garland, or degrade into surface parking and big-box stores? (PHOTO: Spokesman-Review)

Tonight, join community leaders, elected officials, and smart growth advocates at Part Two of the Summit for Neighborhood Fairness. Futurewise Spokane will convene a diverse group of representatives and stakeholders for the second of two public fora on empowering our neighborhoods and prioritizing denser infill development in accordance with existing planning documents. As you’ll recall, the dialogue over smart growth and land use reached a fever pitch last month when it was discovered that Scott Chesney and the Planning Department had approved a building permit for a drive-through-only McDonald’s restaurant on north Hamilton, and that Dave Black had violated Centers and Corridors zoning and the 2009 Developers’ Agreement at his Target development on the South Hill.

Part One of this summit focused on possible policy proposals, while Part Two will focus on choosing the best solutions and crafting a plan toward implementation. It’s clear that land use policy and neighborhood development has quickly become the number one issue in Spokane’s political system. It should be interesting to see where this planning and policy proposal process leads.

  • Join us at the Summit for Neighborhood Fairness, tonight from 5:30p – 7:30p at the downtown branch of the Spokane Public Library. Neighborhood representatives, community leaders, activists, legal experts, and other stakeholders will all be represented.