Spokane’s Best Neighborhoods -
Hipster Rating (out of 10): 9
Predominant Housing Prices:
Ownership: Around $350,000 (mostly condos)
Rentals: Around $1,300
Housing Density: High
Mixed Use Rating: Good
Medical District Neighborhood Description
Spokane’s Medical District is the newest addition to the rankings of best neighborhoods and, my, my, has it shot up the list in a hurry. Why? Because when SpokanePlanner was recently cooking around town taking photos for the Ranking All Spokane Neighborhood’s post, I was reintroduced to the quirks that create one of Spokane’s best neighborhoods – the steep hills, the great urban density, the mixed uses, the rich historic stock, an abundance of basalt features both natural and man-made, and a geography that lends itself well toward unique nooks and crannies that define the Medical District as a place like no other.
Perhaps the most unique part of Spokane’s Medical District is the peppering of single family mansions and large historic homes that have survived the creep of urban downtown and, not to mention, the creep of land lords chopping up large homes into apartments or the creep of developers that want to demolish the homes for office space or the creep of the hospitals that want to buy up the homes in pursuit of their never ending quest to provide more parking.
There’s an old, historic, and ornate high school campus tucked away into the hillside that’s been converted to office space. There’re secret gardens, there’re million dollar views, there're plenty of housing options, there’s diverse architecture, and, perhaps most important, there’s the flagship bar of the South Hill – the Park Inn – an un-pretentious local joint whereby it feels like a 30-year Lewis and Clark, Ferris, and Gonzaga Prep high school reunion every night. An outsider wouldn’t know it, but there’s a lot of money that enjoys a cold bottle of High Life with a shot of Jameson in the Park Inn.
Elements that Create Great Neighborhoods
An Identifiable Center
Two significant regional hospitals anchor Spokane's Medical District — Providence Sacred Heart, and Deaconess. It is Sacred Heart, however, at least from an architectural significance perspective, that over powers Deaconess to rightfully stake claim as the neighborhood's center.
Spokane's Medical District does well in this category. With an elevated I-90 as the clear boundary on the north side and Cliff Drive into 10th Avenue on the south side, there's plenty of clarity when traveling into or out of the Medical District.
A Front Door
Like most Spokane neighborhoods, the Medical District scores low here. There are no marked gateways into the neighborhood.
Mixed Land Uses
The Medical District is one of Spokane's best examples of mixing land uses. High density housing, offices, restaurants, pubs, schools, play fields, and (obviously) hospitals sum up the neighborhood dynamic.
Once again, the Medical District excels in this catagory. Rich historic stock of all varieties dominate the neighborhood's built environment.
Structures that Address the Street
The Medical District is unique in this catagory due to its physical geography. Building upon steep slopes creates design challenges that are overcome by ornate architecture and a development mentality from the turn of the 19th into the 20th centuries. That is to say, despite geographic challenges, those dogged developers from the late 1800s were going to apply the era's design philosophy whether or not the steep hill wanted to abide. About 120 years later, it's safe to say their approach was successful.
If it were developed by today's code standards, the Medical District would look vastly different.
Streets that Generally Connect
Despite the steep grade, Spokane's Medical District does well in this catagory. Most streets connect and there are not many dead ends. During the winter months, the steep hills can pose a challenge from time to time.
Much of the Medical District maintains an urban, downtown feel whereby buildings are built up to the sidewalk. Most sidewalks are undetached from the street. In exchange, however, the sidewalks tend to be wider in the Medical District relative to most other neighborhoods in Spokane.
The tree canopy within the Medical District is impressive. Less due to intentional plantings and more due to the neighborhood being on a steep, north facing slope, the natural canopy benefits from the cooler soils able to hold moister longer.
The Medical District is quite walkable. Naturally, it can be rough on a hot summer's day walking up those steep hills and it can be rough on a cold winter's day walking down those steep hills. Nevertheless, most everything you need is a short walk away with the notable exception of a grocery store.
The Medical District suffers from far too many surface parking lots. We can thank the hospitals and associated office space for cobbling up properties, demolishing them, and paving parking spaces. When a parcel goes on the market in the Medical District, chances are high one of the hospitals will make an effort to purchase it.
Thus, protecting historic structures and developing all those surface parking areas are the Medical District's two greatest challenges. Building more parking structures within the neighborhood is one remedy that can solve the parking challenge and, consequently, protect the historic stock and enable higher development densities.
(Featured photo by Libby Kamrowski of The Spokesman Review)