"We're divided. We're completely separate, and you have to make a concerted effort to get to one side or the other."
Jack-Daniyel Strong's experience with the East Central community began in 1995, long after the completion of the I-90 freeway, but his comments provide important historical perspective on Spokane residents' negative perceptions of the neighborhood. From its inception, East Central was populated by wage earners, which set it apart from nearby middle and upper-middle class neighborhoods located in Marycliff Park, Rockwood, and Cannon Addition, and on the South Hill. While somewhat more tame than the Hillyard neighborhood north of the Spokane River, East Central was far more racially diverse, which made it a less popular place to live in some ways during the racially charged decades between WWI and WWII. Consequently, property values remained more depressed than those in other parts of the city. Occasional police sweeps into East Central added to the stigma.
By the 1960s, East Central was already known as the poorest residential area in Spokane. The complex disruptions caused by I-90 construction exacerbated existing problems and created new ones. Crime increased as the homeless found shelter under the elevated highway, and a quarter mile-wide blighted strip on either side attracted the unwelcome attentions of those lurking around the socio-economic margins. To make matters worse, points out Jack-Daniyel, city planners made a concerted effort to clean up the downtown area in advance of EXPO '74, driving the unwanted and unsightly to its the West Central, East Central, and Hillyard communities.
Like other businessmen, Jack-Daniyel insists that East Central is finally recovering. New businesses are moving in and more upscale shopping areas, like the South Perry District, are springing up. Instead of downplaying its past, residents and business people are also emphasizing East Central's rich history and making concerted efforts to restore and retain its historic buildings and structures rather than replacing them with new ones. While the neighborhood continues to work to improve its image, it is also finding its place in the larger Spokane community.