Today, Spokane, Washington and Portland, Oregon are home to multiple universities, both public and private. They also have a reputation with their locals for having quality live performances and concerts featuring local, as well as popular, artists. Both have their respective small coffee roasters that most residents are loudly proud of, Stumptown and Thomas Hammer. But how is Spokane today similar to the Portland we knew 20 years ago?
1. Both cities are known as health care hubs for their respective regions. If you’re in Western Montana, the Idaho panhandle, or Southeastern Washington and in need of specialized emergency care, you’re probably going to be choppered to Spokane. Portland serves a large area as well, but with a far more dense population. Spokane earned its first prestigious health care research university just this year through Washington State University’s decision to consolidate all nursing programs in downtown Spokane’s Riverpoint Campus. WSU has also moved its pharmacy school to the Riverpoint Campus. Both schools will be running at full enrollment within a few years. This is a great step towards Spokane’s future goal of becoming a respected health care node in not just the region, but also the country. Portland’s OHSU opened its now-nationally honored nursing school’s first dedicated building in 1992.
2. Spokane has been thinking about and analyzing the prospect of building a light rail system for over a decade. The steering committee even created a plan for the lowest-cost-per-mile light rail system in the country. Yet, after 6 years of hard work, the committee was dissolved in 2006 without the hope of seeing their work expressed in the built environment. Portland, on the other hand, had already been operating its award-winning MAX line for 8 years in 1992. Granted, the difference in attitude towards public transit is quite different in each region. Spokane still clings on to its conservative roots today, whereas Portland achieved liberal majority long before 1992. With time and growth, Spokane may one day see its voting patterns shift towards approval of a light rail system. After all, large cities vote more democratically than rural populations.
3. While hospitals, universities, and public transportation infrastructure can tell you a lot about a city’s economic vitality, population, and hinterland size, and the presence of a public science center or science museum can tell you something about the demographics of the area. A science center usually appeals to larger cities in comparison to the rest of their respective region. It can take up entire acres like an old air hanger, or just the size of a neighborhood library. Most things about a science center are at the hands of the locals: visitors decide if a museum fails or succeeds. One thing all museums need, and science museums even more so, is both capital to begin and funding to continue operations. This requires a lot of lobbying by the founders, who typically hold at least one degree and are from the area that the museum serves. The opening of a science center tells us a lot about how the region values: education outside of the classroom, educational after school programs, and investing in their children’s interest in science, technology, engineering, and medical (STEM) subjects so that perhaps a few more than average will come back to the region as educated professionals in the future.
The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the state’s science center, is based in Portland. In 1992, OMSI moved to its present location near the Willamette River and boasts a huge 219,000 square feet (sqft) building, dedicated for everyone’s scientific enjoyment, regardless of age. Spokane’s downtown science centers, Mobius (26,000 sqft) and Mobius Kids (16,000 sqft), opened in 2012 and 2005, respectively. Mobius Kids entertains those children 8 years and younger, while Mobius enlightens kids aged 9-109. Lack of funding set back the building of Mobius, meant to be the main science museum. Since the opening of Mobius, it has attracted over 6,000 visitors and has raised over $500,000 to keep operating and developing new exhibits. Mobius operates independently through corporate and private donations, while OMSI receives public funds.
In what ways is your city stuck in the past? How is your city excelling? Tell us in the comments section below!
Credits: Data linked to sources. Photographs taken by author.