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The “C” Word


“Oh no, here she goes again!”

My friends automatically cringe at the word.

It doesn’t matter the context or the subject at hand. As soon as I say it:


Eyes start to roll, people look out the window, and shift around uncomfortably in their chairs. What is so threatening about this word?

Sadly it seems in today’s culture of suburban materialism, people have every reason to be suspicious. Especially young people. To our parents, “community” was a tangible thing. Folks grew up knowing their neighbors, etc. Today however, the social fabric of authentic community has all but been ripped to shreds. An average of four hours of television a day, the necessity of two-income households, decreased suburban density and increased total population mean we hardly know the meaning of the word.

To certain young people the “C” word represents an obligation they never agreed to fulfill. It is a hollow promise, a loaded word often manipulated by public figures to sell folks on an agenda that may not match up with their own. To some “community” = cloying and claustrophobic. Someone even accused me recently of being in the “Community Cult”. It’s a concept that a lot of people just don’t relate to. Who are the members of this so-called “community” and why is it supposedly so special?

When young adults hear the “C” word we tend to place ourselves outside of it. We don’t fit the target audience for the majority of civic dialog as few of us have children, we aren’t in terminal career track jobs, and we’re typically not making mortgage payments or contributing significantly to the tax base.

This doesn’t mean that young people are anti-social and lack desire for community of their own. We simply use a different word for the same thing and call it the “scene”. A pet peeve of the Spovangelist is that the concept of “scene” in Spokane is rarely extended beyond the realm of local music. That is a great place for a scene to start, but in more culturally dynamic cities the scene is far more multifaceted than that.

What is an ideal scene? Its a large network of people who relate to each others perspectives on jobs, relationships and station in life. They can offer relevant advice on connecting to opportunities that support their shared lifestyle. People in the scene should appreciate the creative work of other people in the scene should it be worthy of such attention. The scene should be able to help its members get hooked up with good roommates, and even share costs on things like throwing parties or transportation to Seattle. The scene should be diverse and interesting. It should provide companionship and expose the people in it to new ideas and ways to recreate. A healthy scene is strong enough to develop its own micro-economy, and this in turn provides meaningful, socially significant jobs to its members.

Cheers to the future of the “C” word in Spokane!

3 Deadly Excuses to Stop Stalling Spokane


When you ask people in the park what they like about Spokane they say “it’s not too big” and “doesn’t have traffic like Seattle”. Some think Spokanites are “friendly” while others point out our access to nature and recreational resources.

On the flip side, comments about barriers to Spokane’s success contain equally generic and uninspired viewpoints. But this set of assumptions has a much more dire effect on our regional mindset. Let me challenge the basis of the top three most cherished Spokane excuses:

1) Spokane just needs more time.


Ask yourself “How many thousands of years was China under dynastic rule?” It is naive to assume some natural process of growth towards more democratic and/or sustainable societies. These practices do not develop on their own. They result from cultural patterns that are directly influenced by a complex variety of real world circumstances. THIS is where the focus should be kept, not asking “Is the time finally right?” I would agree with the truism that “timing is everything” – but this nugget of wisdom shouldn’t be taken proscriptively.

Creating your own opportune moments is a powerful skill to develop. If we can get past the limit imposed by this ‘glacial time assumption’ the challenge becomes identifying methods that accelerate the process of change itself. The social time scales of the past should not be inappropriately applied to the ever-changing possibilities for the future.

2) Spokane needs new people.


Often I hear it said that we have to “be patient” and wait for all the old fossils to die off before things can really start to move ahead. A variation on this idea is that Spokane needs to import a bunch of “enlightened” Californians or outside corporate talent to cancel out the effects of suspicious natives or make our economy sing.

It is hopelessly narcissistic to assume that attitudinal barriers to change will disappear with certain members of the society that espouse them. Let us not forget that these people have children (often times a larger number of them) and ideas about the what makes the world tick have a funny way of transferring through generational lines. At some point social activists will have to suck up their uncertainty and (gasp) actually engage the criticisms they despise.

3) Spokane is too poor.


First off, as an American city, Spokane has a lot of fat to burn. The question is how we burn it. Are our dollars squandered on flat screen TVs or invested into energy efficient dishwashers? Do we allow our limited money to be vacuumed out of the local sphere by national and international corporate conglomerates, or do we circulate our dollars faster and more effectively in our own vibrant micro-economy?

Culture change can be spearheaded on a shoestring. The question must involve how to win hearts and minds, the money will follow. Just ask a preacher! Let’s remember one doesn’t loose weight by buying a fancy gym membership, one actually has to work out to get rid of those pounds.

Beware of the Aesthetics Police!


I think it’d be hilarious to get a small number of people together to form a fake group called the Spokane Aesthetics Police. This satirical organization could play on a number of humorous themes and would spark conversation in a variety of unconventional ways. The basic idea would be to go around issuing “aesthetic citations” to offending features of the local urban/suburban landscape.

First the SWAT Team would deploy near a busy street corner on a sunny afternoon. Members of this group would be easily identified by their brightly colored handmade jumpsuit uniforms, oversized badges and toilet paper roll night sticks. The Investigators would drum up attention by running around with rulers, giant fabric and color swatches, and cameras to document the scene of the crime. A janitor-type officer could go around collecting “evidence” (cigarette butts, food wrappers, etc.) and placing these into carefully labeled zip lock bags.

Once people begin to gather, the Sheriff would step into the crowd to present the citation (with bull horn when appropriate) explaining the nature of the offense and the demanded compensation on behalf of the public. The ticket would be placed on the offending object itself, or presented to the proprietor or manager of the property.


A “Top Ten Most Wanted” list could be developed and posted around town. I suggest that Joe Diamond and petty taggers be among them to start. Other suggestions of things that deserve the scrutiny of the public eye:

the windowless faces of the Davenport Tower
the boarded up Safeway/Dollar Store in Hillyard
the ClearChannel headquarters out on E. Sprague
the backside of the Spokane Tourism & Information Bureau
our Convention Center, which looks like a beached robotic whale
NorthTown Mall
The Aesthetics Police could make an intentionally hideous website that pokes fun at all the typical features of crappy website design. People could post their complaints and the Aesthetics Police would be there to heroically respond. People would come to hedge their bets on where the Aesthetics Police would strike next, unpredictability makes things fun! Over time, with good public rapport and consistent media coverage, business owners and/or developers might think twice about maintaining their property or heeding design guidelines to avoid a visit from The Infamous SAP.

Slogan’s might involve something along the lines of “We might be poor, but we ain’t blind!”

Long term extensions of this project might include “Departments” organized around specific tasks. I would volunteer to be the “Window Box and Flower Pot Patroller”. I’d create my own ticket (probably a magenta 8”x11”) and go around documenting instances of under maintained landscaping features. These would be posted on the Aesthetics Police website, while outstanding examples of public landscaping would be lauded and presented with creative awards. Another simple idea would be to place green quarter-sheet size tickets on the windshields of ULVs (Unecessarily Large Vehicles) with energy use and transportation efficiency statistics on the back.

Tags: Identity Crisis · Pretty Things · Shock Value · Street Theater3 Comments

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