Thursday, March 5, 2015

Coming Back

It has been a while since I've written here, and I'd like to say it's because I've been so busy on other projects. That is partly true: I took on the rather consuming project of growing and birthing the third child in our young family, a project that has involved much thinking and planning about what our car-free lifestyle will look like with three kids (more thoughts to come on that subject).

Since late summer last year, we have also been traveling off and on, travels that have reinforced our notions about what we value in a city. On top of this, there has been a seemingly endless parade of local walkability and transit issues taking up my head space and mental (and sometimes physical) energy. Some have turned out well, some have been annoyingly contentious in this sometimes backward community, and some are still in process and make me want to plug my ears and sing "la la la la la."  

It can be frustrating to live in a place with beautiful natural surroundings, wonderful potential, and a committed cohort of involved citizens striving to develop that potential, and yet to see change happening so slowly. When it comes to walking, biking, and transit development, nothing here can be taken for granted as it might in a more progressive city. Every project or levy to improve transportation choices has to be explained, debated, and justified in painfully simplistic terms. The community at large, as well as a few very powerful business interests, often don't understand (or refuse to concede) that walkability, bikeability, and centralized, reliable transit are good for business, public safety, and the community. 

Car is king here. All too frequently, the attitude one hears is, "We don't have congestion here, and everyone is happy driving cars. Why would we possibly need new transit/sidewalks/bike infrastructure?" Here, transit is for poor people, sidewalks are for the downtown business core only (and should be obstructed as little as possible by actual people), and bicycles are for trail riding only (after you drive your bike to said trail, obviously). 

This is by no means an unusual state of affairs for a mid-sized American city, and Spokane is certainly not the worst. It passed complete streets legislation in 2012, and many encouraging projects to make the city more human-friendly have been completed in recent years. The city is undoubtedly improving as a place to get around without a private vehicle. But for a family with young kids deciding where to settle down for the long term, I have to admit that the overall culture is discouraging. 

I am the first to say that one shouldn't complain about something one is unwilling to work to change. Especially where walkability is concerned, I believe in making the most of your situation, even when it is not ideal, and advocating to improve it. But if I may be honest, I would prefer not to spend these years of my life - while my children are young and require so much of my energy already - in a place where living out our values has been made so very difficult, when we know that there are other places further along the development path. Until my children are old enough to walk and bike the required distances on their own, it would be great to live someplace where those distances are shorter and safer. And I definitely don't want to succumb to a culture where strapping children into car seats is considered the normal way to get them from place to place on a daily basis. To me, a place where children cannot walk and bike safely everywhere they need to go is not a "great place to raise a family," a claim one often hears about Spokane.

Whew. But. Enough venting. In the meantime, here we are. We are fortunate to be able to live in one of the most walkable neighborhoods in town, and we are enjoying ourselves as spring is in the air. I want to continue documenting our adventures with our now three small children, as well as some new thoughts I've had on education, creative expression, and simple life at home with kids. 

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