"I-90 might have been good for Spokane, but it was not good for [the East Central] neighborhood."
Jerry Numbers is, without a doubt, the most recognized leader in the East Central neighborhood. He has been involved with the community since his grandmother moved there in 1945, so he contributes not just a deep familiarity with the people and places, but with the era before I-90 was completed and the time after. He characterizes pre I-90 East Central as "connected," a place with a rich shared past and a vibrant social network forged and tempered through decades of adversity. More than just a place on a map, East Central was a complex system of integrated needs and livelihoods; a change to one element would have broad implications for all the others.
The I-90 freeway was just such a change. While there is no evidence that I-90 planners actively considered the consequences of running the freeway through East Central, correspondence between federal officials in the late 1950s does indicate a keen awareness of the unavoidably disruptive effects to neighborhoods in the right-of-way. Few argue, however, that the I-90 freeway was bad for Spokane. The city as a whole certainly benefited from a stronger connection with other towns and cities, and the country benefited from the economic expansion the interstate highway system fostered. These positive effects came at a cost, though, and the prosperity they generated was not evenly distributed. In East Central, the highway wiped out some of the most historic structures, disrupting longstanding communities and displacing low-income residents unable to afford equivalent accommodations. Those lucky enough to live outside the right-of-way saw their already racially divided neighborhood further fractured into a blighted zone north of the freeway and a more stable, if impoverished, community to the south. Long-standing businesses that had formed the backbone of the local economy were either sold and demolished for I-90 or died slowly when they were cut off from the vast majority of their customers who lived on the other side.
The results were social as well as economic. After I-90, East Central became a community cut loose from the historical moorings that gave it a sense of place. While decades of stagnation have proven difficult to overcome, East Central's depressed status has drawn federal grants and low-interest loans, which are financing gradual revival.