This neighborhood is a lot like this country, a land of stark contrasts. The West Central neighborhood may also be a microcosm of the USA, with lots of lower income folks, a smaller middle class, and a smattering of wealthy residents. Income disparity creates a lot of the aforementioned contrasts - grand estates along W. Summit, and beautiful craftsman-era bungalows on A St. stand almost in defiance of the disinvestment that is scattershot across W. Boone, College, Mallon, and many other streets. About fifty-three percent of West Central housing units are renter-occupied. A wide variation of housing conditions can be found along W. Boone Avenue, where you may see a tidy late Victorian with a nice garden sandwiched between two broken-down hovels with furniture and toys spilling off the dirty porches and into the weed-infested yards, or vice-versa. However, this neighborhood is making a comeback, which won’t happen quickly, but it has begun. From the west end of the neighborhood out towards Maple St. you will see houses being refurbished. And, the “Summit Property”, which consists of undeveloped land (formerly a rail corridor) along the top of the Spokane River gorge west of Monroe St. (see photo gallery) will probably be developed in the next decade. Proposals for that development haven’t been crystallized, but a mixed-use center with many residential units is likely. That could mean big changes for the south side of the neighborhood, and if the city were willing to impose impact fees (development exactions), the benefits of that development could be shared by all the taxpaying citizens of Spokane.
We like the fact that rich and poor aren’t physically segregated here, although the widespread poverty is distressing. This is an old neighborhood, platted and built over a hundred years ago, where the wealthy and the working class rubbed elbows at Natatorium Park and on trolley cars that served this near-downtown area. Gated “communities” of McMansions and mock county-estate subdivisions didn’t exist in America yet, and somehow people of all socioeconomic strata had better living conditions in the “streetcar neighborhoods” than have ever been created in exurban areas. This type of neighborhood may be the best hope for the future of human communities – its fairly dense, close to the urban core, walkable, and has potential for more mixed-use and multi-family infill development. The neighborhood council is doing its best to make the neighborhood work for its approximately 8,000 residents, in spite of city budget deficits that have stopped the planning efforts promised in the city comprehensive plan.
One West Central negative: there are no laid-back, funky, or cool hang-out places for families or youngsters, such as coffee or sandwich shops, anywhere near the neighborhood core. A positive: bus service is good and ridership is strong.
Another level of contrasts here are those provided by topography, thanks to the ancient (late-Pleistocene period) floods of Glacial Lake Missoula. The Spokane River forms the southern and western border of the neighborhood, and it eroded a beautiful gorge here as floodwater drained from the prairie on which most of this county lies. The north bank of the river is very steep in places, and drops up to three hundred feet from the flat to the river. Walking along W. Summit Boulevard you can take in lovely views of the river downstream from its confluence with Latah Creek, and see Mt. Spokane and the Colville Range. Go down to the new and excellent Sandifur Memorial pedestrian bridge (in Highbridge Park) and cross the river into Peaceful Valley, or have a picnic on the north bank of the river if you want to commune with nature - you may see an osprey, heron, red-tail hawk, or eagle, depending on the season. The famous Olmstead Brothers (landscape architects/planners) recommended this gorge area for a long, linear park, back around 1912. Some day their “Great Gorge” Park may be realized. Current advocates of this idea (Friends of the Falls, among others) have been working hard to make it happen, but this city is broke, and potholes have priority. Fortunately, most of the nearby gorge bottom is already part of the city park system, which should prevent more development in what is one of the only viable (though tenuous) wildlife corridors left near the city. River to alley, you’ll have to stretch your imagination to find a Spokane neighborhood with more striking contrasts.