Spokane Journal of Business

Sister Cities Garden merits support

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Urban planners have long preached that one key measure of a community's quality of life is the quality of its parks.

A hundred years ago, visionaries in Spokane made parks a priority. Thus the city and county have been blessed with abundant playfields for softball, soccer, and many other games and activities. The two jewels of the park system remain Manito and Riverfront.

Their quality has improved as the city of Spokane, its Parks Board, and supportive volunteers have continued to polish these "jewels" over the years with enhancements.

Re-invention is part of the process, especially at Riverfront Park. In coming months, as detailed in a recent Journal article, a bold new master plan for Riverfront will be discussed, and a bond issue to fund the improvements is possible next year.

The timing is fortuitous. In 2014, Spokane celebrates the 40th anniversary of its Expo '74 World's Fair. Longtime residents remember well the tangle of railroad trestles and small warehouses that covered the space from Trent north across the Spokane River. Though functional, it was not a pretty site, or sight.

Buoyed by the transformational success of Seattle's 1962 World's Fair, Spokane business and civic leaders mapped a new destiny for the precious space along the Spokane River from Post to Division.

Expo '74 was a special global connection, an environmentally-themed outreach to the world. When the six-month fair ended, Riverfront Park was born, providing a gathering place for Bloomsday runners and Hoopfest players, for outdoor concerts and various venues to Pig Out, ride the gondola and carrousel, and walk part of the Centennial Trail.

Improvements continue to enhance the park, including the popular Rotary Fountain at the south entrance.

Building on the Expo heritage and Spokane's 52-year history of Sister Cities programs, another important enhancement is planned in Riverfront—a Sister Cities Garden.

Plans for creating the garden have been discussed since Spokane hosted the Sister Cities International conference in 2005. The conference theme was "Connecting Global Villages," building on the idea that smaller cities also have a spot on the world stage.

The Sister Cities Garden will be located north of the gondola loading station, on the mostly dormant space which during Expo housed the garden and pond next to the Japanese Pavilion. Design plans call for colorful pathways that will lead to a small central plaza. Distinctive sculptures and other features will represent Spokane and its four sister cities—Nishinomiya, Japan; Limerick, Ireland; Jecheon, South Korea; and, Jilin City, China.

The garden space is scenic and serene. Signage will raise awareness about Sister Cities connections for area residents and visitors. The innovative garden design was developed by Mead-based Land Expressions, which just completed a Spokane River project in Riverfront Park. The new garden will complement the popular Tsutakawa Japanese Garden at Manito Park.

Like most worthwhile civic projects, the new garden needs a village full of support. The Sister Cities Association of Spokane greatly appreciates the guidance and support of Spokane Parks Director Leroy Eadie, Riverfront Park Manager Craig Butz, Mayor David Condon, and past Spokane mayors, especially Jack Geraghty, who was a key administrator for Expo '74.

The Sister Cities Garden is separate from any bond funding contemplated in developing the new master plan for Riverfront. Garden funding will be solicited from corporate friends, supportive organizations and individuals, Sister Cities program participants, and others who share the vision of making Riverfront Park even better. (For more information, go to spokanesistercities.org.)

Those planners who 100 years ago knew the important value of parks to a city would be amazed to see how right they were. We'll designate some seats on a bench in the garden in their honor.

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