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Spokane, Washington’s Famous Manito Park: Modern Strengt...

Spokane, Washington’s Famous Manito Park: Modern Strengths and Weaknesses

Manito (phonetically: “MAN-IT-OH”) Park in Spokane, Washington’s South Hill area, within the Manito/Cannon Hill neighborhood, was established in 1904. Once a recreation area with a few picnic tables and a public zoo (which closed due to underfunding during the Great Depression), Manito Park’s 90-acres have quite literally blossomed into one of the urban gems of the Inland Northwest. But

duncan gardens

Manito (phonetically: “MAN-IT-OH”) Park in Spokane, Washington’s South Hill area, within the Manito/Cannon Hill neighborhood, was established in 1904. Once a recreation area with a few picnic tables and a public zoo (which closed due to underfunding during the Great Depression), Manito Park’s 90-acres have quite literally blossomed into one of the urban gems of the Inland Northwest. But since its original use, which assets have proven to be the park’s modern sterling examples for the rest of the region’s parks, and which need some shining up?

I believe Manito Park holds the following unique strengths:

1) Varied areas and activities which attract all ages to the park

While Manito Park is famous for its many flower gardens and plant conservatory, the park also boasts a duck pond, café, two playgrounds, tennis courts, and sledding hills. There are also many miles of hiking/walking and biking paths of both asphalt and dirt/gravel ground-covers. No matter your age or physical ability level; there is always something to do year-round.

2) The diverse landscaping design

Much of the park is left to grow wild (within reason due to fire concerns, of course) and serves to bolster the “urban forest” feel. This way, the hiking/walking and biking paths feel just that much closer to nature.  Because over 150,000 people from all over the region visit this public asset, this landscaping technique has truly provided the added depth and “pockets” of seclusion visitors demand of a large urban park.

“Manito,” as locals refer to it for short, also has a couple of shortfalls:

1) Emergency access is limited outside of the main garden areas

The only map available is one of roadways and major paths, so don’t be fooled: the semi-maintained “wild” overgrowth may not be as well protected from fire- or worse, arson- as may be perceived by the untrained eye. The Spokane Fire Department doesn't even mention the unique challenge of serving parks in their Standard of Coverage and Deployment plan! Even their standard for a five-minute response time in the adjacent residential area could be devastating in Spokane's summers which can consist of going 7-10 weeks straight without a single drop of rain. Dark green areas on the map below indicate generous mature tree coverage.


2) Not well lit

While the park officially closes at dusk, many argue, as Jane Jacobs did in her Life and Death of Great American Cities, that parks are not positive urban space at night. She wrote in her first work, “Parks are volatile places,” and continues, “Ask a houser. . .  a zoner. . . a planner. . . will envision a future of more open space. More open space for what? For muggings?” Parks have such a poor reputation already when it comes to violent and illegal activity, why endorse this behavior with poor lighting?

Manito Park is absolutely wonderful when visited during the daylight hours, rest assured! If you agree that Manito should also be a safe place to walk near after hours, contact the Spokane Parks Board! Or, even better, go to a Parks Board meeting!

What do you think your city’s flagship large urban park could work on?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

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Aascot Holt is an undergraduate at Eastern Washington University, pursuing a major in Urban and Regional Planning and a minor in Geography. She will graduate in the spring of 2013. She is from Stevenson, WA and currently lives in Spokane, WA in a bri...

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