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The Spokane-Seattle inferiority complex

Is Spokane to Seattle as Seattle is to San Francisco?

The Spokane River runs through the heart of the city.

The Spokane River runs through the heart of the city. Sea turtle/Flickr

I don't generally make a habit of taking to Twitter to announce snow conditions at Northwest ski areas, but that's what I did two days after Christmas. Traveling across Snoqualmie Pass from Spokane, I was surprised to see the paltry snow levels at the Summit. It was, of course, pouring rain, with no snow in sight.

I snapped a picture and posted to Twitter: "Reason 542 Spokane skiing beats Seattle. The scene today (closed, little snow, pouring rain) at Snoqualmie Pass."

stoked the fire again a few weeks later, tweeting: "Hey, Seattle. Greetings from Spokane, where it's sunny, 40 degrees. I think I'll ski tonight at our nearby mountain that has plenty of snow."

It's no secret that the west and east sides of Washington have a cultural and political rivalry. That competition, if you can call it that, manifests itself all the time in conversations I have with Seattle friends.

"When are you moving here?" they'll ask, as if to suggest Spokane is no place for a young, college-educated person.

All those Twitter updates and defenses I hurl are meant to be playful, but also informative. Spokane and the Inland Northwest is a desirable place to live for numerous reasons — a relatively low cost of living and access to good outdoor adventure being two. (Outside magazine named Spokane one of its "Best Towns" for 2013.)

But the more passive-aggressive city promotions I hurl into the Internet ether, the more I wonder if I'm being too defensive. (The Spokanite doth protest too much, methinks.) Am I — and all of Spokane — suffering from a metropolitan inferiority complex?

That question wouldn't have percolated to the top of my meth-wearied brain (Remember, all Spokanites are toothless drug addicts living in squalor.) without the help of Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat.

In a column ahead of the Seahawks-49ers NFC Championship game, Westneat pondered whether Seattle had an inferiority complex of its own — toward San Francisco. He also couldn't help taking a passing glance at Washington state's west-east divide:

"So in a way we got our start as San Francisco’s dump," he wrote. "We are to them as Tacoma is to us. OK, that’s too extreme. How about this: We are San Francisco's Spokane."

The subtext: Spokane is not and will never be as cool as Seattle.

That made me think about my own defenses of Spokane, both online and in person. Does Seattle really have a superiority complex toward Spokane? Does Spokane have an inferiority complex toward Seattle?

Or, perhaps a better question: Am I the one with the complex? In constantly defending my choice to live in Spokane, am I feeding the proverbial beast?

For insight, I took to Facebook. (Indeed, we do have Internet in Spokane, though our 56K dial-up makes it a bear to load — even with 1,000 hours of free AOL access.)

Does Seattle think it's superior, I asked. Does Spokane think it's inferior?

The responses didn't settle any great debate. Spokane people, it seems, like a slower pace to life, enjoy more open space and want a friendly environment. Seattle is great too, if you can afford the higher cost of living. And, of course, if you're OK with rain and traffic congestion.

One comment from a friend seemed particularly spot-on:

"I've lived in Seattle, Los Angeles, Newport Beach and yet here I am willingly and consciously living in a small eastern Washington town, on a big clean river, where a tent, truck, boat and rifle are all you really need to be happy. Spokane has all pluses in those categories. I don't believe that makes me inferior, or Seattle superior, I think it means those pluses are different for me than someone else."

For many people, Spokane simply offers different qualities of life than Seattle. That doesn't make them rednecks, racists or any of the other stereotypes associated with the region. (Indeed, there are plenty of Subaru-driving, REI-shopping, organic food-loving people in Spokane. Count me among them.)


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Feb 10, 6:15 a.m. Inappropriate

Spokane doesn't have enough job growth to make most Puget Sound residents think about moving there. When was the last time you got a call from a recruiter saying, "I have a great job for you on the east side of the mountains and it pays more."?

Posted Mon, Feb 10, 6:37 a.m. Inappropriate

Any metro area that would give up a thoughtful leader like Tom Foley for George Nethercutt, then add insult to injury with Cathy McMorris Rodgers, ought to have its collective head examined.

Posted Mon, Feb 10, 12:21 p.m. Inappropriate

What a typically Seattle thing to say.

dbreneman

Posted Mon, Feb 10, 8:26 p.m. Inappropriate

Maybe so, but so what? I grew up in Spokane. I remember when Walt Horan (R) was ousted by Tom Foley (D) in 1968. I also remember crap like this: http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?displaypage=output.cfm&file;_id=9485 and saw similar in Spokane, and have watched the politics in EWa become increasingly dominated by reactionaries ever since. We're not supposed to speak the obvious just because we live in Seattle?

louploup

Posted Tue, Feb 11, 9:31 a.m. Inappropriate

You don't have much of a sense of humor, do you?

dbreneman

Posted Mon, Feb 10, 7:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Spokane has plusses and negatives, just like Seattle. Cost of living and wages lower, stress lower, same nutso politicians but with different names.

When I want to "get out of town" for a weekend, I often go to Spokane. relaxing, beautiful, abundant recreation opportunities.

Yes, their skiiing is closer to town than ours. Their "Out-of-Town" is even closer.

Don't diss Spokane.

Geezer

Posted Mon, Feb 10, 7:58 a.m. Inappropriate

I was born and raised in the Seattle area, where me and my high school buddies used to regularly poke fun of Spokane, Tacoma and Everett. Years later, after having spent some time in both cities, I've come to prefer Spokane AND Tacoma to Seattle (don't think I'll ever make that leap with Everett).

I guess my point is that most of us choose to live where we want to be for our own reasons: Those who prefer Seattle will live there, and the same applies to Spokane. "Different" doesn't always mean "better" or "worse."

Posted Mon, Feb 10, 7:59 a.m. Inappropriate

I was born and raised in the Seattle area, where my high school buddies and I used to regularly poke fun of Spokane, Tacoma and Everett. Years later, after having spent some time in both cities, I've come to prefer Spokane AND Tacoma to Seattle (don't think I'll ever make that leap with Everett).

I guess my point is that most of us choose to live where we want to be for our own reasons: Those who prefer Seattle will live there, and the same applies to Spokane. "Different" doesn't always mean "better" or "worse."

Posted Mon, Feb 10, 12:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Spokane and Seattle seemingly are also taking sides in ed reform. Spokane passed the charter school initiative while in Seattle, it was voted down. Spokane became the only school district in the state to become a charter authorizer (and wisely only authorized one). Seattle School district shows zero interest.

westello

Posted Mon, Feb 10, 12:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Spokane doesn't behave like a city and many/most I know there don't want it to. It's a town. It wants to be a town, and those who live there don't identify with an urban ethos. They live in a small town, and a identify with being close to the outdoors, or being able to be happy with a tent, truck, boat, and a rifle.

Seattle becomes more urban every year. More dense, more people, more small businesses, more trendy bars or boutiques, etc. Seattle is a city, has always wanted to be a city, and its people want to live in a city, not a town. We identify more with cultural institutions, institutions of higher learning, globally significant companies, etc.

So if you want to compare the 2, you're begging for a beauty contest between a city and a town. Spokane is a town filled with town-loving people. Seattle is a city filled with city-loving people. If Spokane harbors any desire to be a real city, its not apparent in its layout, its institutions, its politics, or the way its people talk about living there. So why compare? Spokane will never be as good at being a city as Seattle is unless its culture, politics, and self-image all radically change from the current norm.

Oh, and IMO, Spokane nurtures its "town" identity to its own disadvantage. You are getting the population of a city, but pretending you're still a town - the beautiful country between Coeur D'Alene and Spokane have suffered - sprawling, inefficient development that erases the very thing that used to give Spokane its "town" identity.

nullbull

Posted Mon, Feb 10, 8:30 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree; good post. The sprawl toward Newport is bad enough; the Valley and Coeur d'Alene area are disgusting. You could say Spokane is the biggest town in Idaho.

louploup

Posted Mon, Apr 14, 6:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Seattle sure is vapid for a city.

It used to be fun, then it got homogenized.

Posted Mon, Feb 10, 5:14 p.m. Inappropriate

Your last three paragraphs are perfect. After spending a lot of time outside the Northwest, having grown up here, I think that people from the Northwest love the REGION for all the things that you noted, and are justifiably proud of this (so much so that I call us "regional jingoists" of a very peaceful and placid variety). Within the region, we choose the place to live that best fits who we are, but we all get to benefit from the extraordinary natural (and built) bounty that the region has to offer.

Jonathan

Posted Tue, Feb 11, 8:25 a.m. Inappropriate

If the Northwest "we" agree on only celebrates petty, superficial civic boosters and bullies like Westneat and the author of this piece, Tacoma should secede to become its own little unpretentious city-state. And we're taking Mt. Seattle Seahawks with us.

pika

Posted Tue, Feb 11, 12:06 p.m. Inappropriate

Most Eastern Washington towns want what Seattle has, but they have, yeah, but, mentality to the core. They simply don't want to pay for it. Whenever I had a truly nice car, house, or horse for sale, they expected me to just give it to them because it's just as good as whatever crap they had. I heard countless times, yeah I know you have a great house, BUT, I don't want to give you that much money for it. This idea pervades everything, jobs, schooling, housing, they have no interest in doing the work to pull out of the hole. My parents here in Seattle worked very hard for what they had, and endured strikes at Boeing to improve their lot. I can't imagine that ever taking place over there. There is no class distinctions either. I like earning 3 times what I would have for the same job over there without all the sexist passive aggressive treatment. As a former Rotary member i especially appreciate not dealing with all the sheer frustration of wanting to do the impossible of bettering the community we lived in.

lena1535

Posted Mon, Apr 14, 2:22 p.m. Inappropriate

If folks in Eastern Washington (and down here in Southwest as well) would apply the "live and let live" philosophy so widely praised here, things would be better. But no. The folks who don't live around Puget Sound universally agree with the "we've got a noose around Seattle" attitude just yesterday promoted in the Clark County Republican convention.

The fact that King County alone supplies nearly half of state tax revenues (42%) seems lost on the folks in the 34 "recipient" counties (other "donors" are Snohomish, Skagit, San Juan and Whatcom Counties). They seem dead set on killing the goose that lays the golden eggs supporting them. Even Democrats outside Puget Sound were up in arms because most of the transportation package was for King and Pierce Counties, both of which badly need increased capacity.

I guess they follow the Willie Sutton theory of governance: steal from where the money is.

Anandakos

Posted Mon, Apr 14, 6:41 p.m. Inappropriate

"Recipient" counties? King County gets every dime to create jobs, so the children who grew up in your so-called "recipient" counties can't find enough decent work to stay in their home towns ... so they move to King County for work.

I think that makes those 34 counties "DONOR" counties.

The King Goose that is called King County is being hand fed a governmental funded diet that fattens the King County goose, but steals life from the cousin counties.

We need to elect people who have economic sense and training.

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