"It's been a very graphic, if not shocking display of what a major infrastructure change can have on a neighborhood."
Dave Clack's family has owned property and operated businesses in the East Central neighborhood since 1938, and he is one of the most well-known and established leaders in the community. He has been around long enough to remember when Sprague Avenue was a thriving business district that, in many ways, anchored the neighborhood to the larger city. The houses at the bottom of the hill, adjacent to the district, which were among the least expensive in Spokane, were home to many wage earners of very modest means. Areas like this played an important role in the development of American cities by creating stability for low-income workers who provided the basic services that form the foundation of local economies. The sense of solidarity such a community fosters, while harder to quantify, is even more essential to the stability of of labor-based work forces.
Unfortunately for these homeowners, this was also the cheapest land generating the lowest tax revenue in the city. It was, in the crassest and most pragmatic terms, the least productive, which made for an easy decision to route I-90 through it. This same set of circumstances was played out in cities all over the country as low-income - and predominantly black - neighborhoods were demolished in the late 1950s and early 1960s to make way for the interstate highway system. As in other places, in Spokane it had the immediate effect of drastically reducing the low-income housing stock and not replacing it with anything else. This placed pressure on the rest of the city as former residents tried to find affordable lodging. The increased demand against a static supply drove low-income housing prices up for the rest of the working class, which forced many families to downsize and others to relocate to other cities entirely. The timing of these changes,which occurred during the most heated years of the Civil Rights era, is also important. In Spokane and other cities, the completion of I-90 was roughly coincident with the passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act(1965). Given this context, decisions about freeway routes were understandably charged with racial tension.
It is clear that the Interstate Highway Act asked the poorest and most diverse communities in the United States to bear the heaviest financial burden. Nearly fifty years after I-90 was completed, the East Central neighborhood is still recovering. Like other interviewees, Dave is hopeful about the future, but he is also honest about the challenges the community still faces. "The neighborhood needs help," he says. "Seriously, it needs help."