For those who missed yesterday’s post: The Hoods, which opens tomorrow night at Bon Bon, is, in their own words, an “arts and design show with a neighborhood focus” that “celebrate[s] the spirit of Spokane’s communities.”
At heart The Hoods is a fantastic idea. Blue-collar or bohemian, historic or contemporary, seedy or glitzy, gentrified or dynamic… over time every square mile develops a distinct identity, and the proof thereof is that each of those adjectives ought to bring to mind at least one of Spokane’s twenty-seven neighborhoods.
Those identities are one of the biggest reasons why we choose to live in (or avoid) a particular part of town. In many ways, those collective neighborhood identities are an expression of ourselves as individuals. Being able to see those identities distilled in an engaging visual way like a logo or photograph can help reaffirm our decision to hang out at a particular coffee place, to shop at a particular store, to raise a family in a particular house on a particular block. Or they can even provide us with a rallying point to actively set about changing or maintaining certain aspects of our neighborhood.
Put simply, there’s a lot of power in those identities and how you choose to represent them.
Unfortunately, in some respects, The Hoods has gone about channeling and extolling that power in the wrong way. The participating designers have deliberately ignored existing neighborhood names and boundaries, and instead sided with “popular terms for neighborhoods […] for the sake of easier promotion and marketing” in the words of their organizer, Karli Ingersoll (herself an Emerson-Garfield resident, which makes what follows sting all the more).
In most cases, the popular names happily coincide with the official designations. In the case of Emerson-Garfield, however, the designers chose the arbitrary term “Corbin Park.” And in doing so, they elevated that tiny portion — about 50 homes out of several hundreds — of our neighborhood over the rest.
That doesn’t celebrate diversity. That celebrates exclusivity. Imagine an arts project on the statewide level that featured Seattle, Tacoma, Yakima, Kennewick and… South Hill.
For many years, the active volunteers on the Emerson-Garfield Neighborhood Council — many of whom are also Corbin Park residents — have devoted countless hours of their time to ensuring that the neighborhood receives a fair and equitable distribution of resources and attention. Emerson-Garfield was in fact one of Spokane’s three original neighborhood councils, and the geographical remit of that council has been very clearly delineated at the city level for
more than 15 almost 40 years.
Highlighting Corbin Park at the expense of Emerson-Garfield undermines all the effort that these volunteers have made toward uniting everyone who lives and works here. It complicates their aim to foster an inclusive environment — a true neighborhood, which invariably includes businesses and social cliques, pockets of poverty and pockets of wealth, young families and longtime residents, community gardens and empty lots — and not just cater to a handful of listed homes next to a park.
Whatever the popular conceptions might be, the simple fact is that the Corbin Park area is not something that can be geographically detached from Emerson-Garfield. Nor is it representative of Emerson-Garfield as a whole. Nor is it large or self-sufficient enough to be treated as a neighborhood in its own right. Quite honestly, the designers’ deliberate decision to ignore all three of these issues makes us question how well they understand the neighborhoods they claim to be celebrating.
To do Emerson-Garfield justice, they might have at least consulted the group of people who are engaged on so many levels in the challenging process of improving this neighborhood. To do Emerson-Garfield justice, they might have worked toward countering popular misconceptions instead of reinforcing them.
Make no mistake: Emerson-Garfield residents are extremely proud to be able to say that such a green and historic area as Corbin Park is part of their neighborhood. But that’s precisely the point: it is a part, not the whole, of our much more colorful and variegated square mile. It is not the only aspect of the identity our neighborhood wants for itself, and is not the identity those of us in the trenches have been working so hard to tease out and cultivate.
You can read today’s Inlander article on The Hoods here. Our displeasure is at least acknowledged in the story.