Document 69: Spokane Ecology Exposition

Economic Research Associates, “Excerpt from ‘Plan and Feasibility of Proposed Spokane Ecology Exposition,” 1970, King Cole Papers, Box I,
Eastern Washington State Historical Society.

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Section II
Summary and Conclusions

Since the beginning of time, the human species, uniquely among living creatures, has been engaged in the conquest of its environment. As in all forms of conquest, heed has seldom been given to the consequences. Man has tended to be as artless about ends as his artful about means. This paradox has resulted in gradual but cumulative damage to the environment. Until recently, the damage went virtually unnoticed. The number of transgressors was no match for the richness of the earth, and little thought was given to the ends for the opportunities seemed endless. This has now proved to be a delusion, sprung from the fact that the pace of change was slow enough for nature to absorb and adjust to the shocks to its system. Eventually, however, the pace quickened, the tribe increased, and the hastening ills grew to the proportions of wholesale desecrations. Today the havoc is as visible as urban smog, as manifest in the looming extinction of whole species, and as menacing as poisoned water and shrinking supplies of oxygen.

Thus, suddenly man has discovered that in seeking mastery over nature, he has, in fact, been at war with it, and that it is a war he cannot win. With this discovery, man is confronted with the necessity of transforming his historic role in the natural order—from pacemaker to peacemaker. No less than in the political sphere, his choice in the ecological sphere is coexistence or no existence: the balance of nature is as delicate and indispensable as the balance of power.

Man the destroyer turns out to be engaged in destroying himself. He is thus compelled to turn from conquest to peace quest. In turning, he enters upon a whole new age in the annals of his species.

In the year 1974, just ten years before the Orwellian Year of No Return, the City of Spokane, Washington, celebrates its 100th birthday. Those 100 years roughly span the Age of Progress. But the progress, we see now, has come at the expense of nature. Spokane, which calls its region “Outdoorsland, USA,” lives with nature as few large urban communities do. The city sprang from its river, the Spokane, whose falls powered the sawmill around which the first settlement grew. Ever since, and up to the present day, its industry has been based almost exclusively on natural resource production and development—minerals of great variety and lumber and its products. Its other major industry is outdoor recreation. Within a 50-mile radius of Spokane lie nearly 75 recreational lakes, along with a large ski resort, and within a day's drive lie more than half a dozen national parks and forests, American and Canadian.

Looking back on its past, on a century of its own progress founded upon the resources of the natural environment, and cognizant that maintenance of that progress depends upon maintenance of the environment, Spokane's civic leaders plan to create a 1974 Centennial celebration around the theme of ecology.

Site and Concept

The Central Business District of Spokane, comprising roughly six square blocks, is bordered on the north by the river. The riverfront itself, however, is dominated, and the river hidden, by elevated tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad. Beyond, extending approximately the width of the CBD, is Havermale Island (now actually a peninsula), which is also occupied by a railroad station and tracks—the Great Northern's—and by a number of old structures in a state of some disrepair. Just to the north is tiny Crystal Island, the site of an industrial laundry, which sits between two of the river's three center city falls (Spokane Falls, the main cataract, is two blocks downriver to the west). Along the downtown riverfront on the north side of the river lie still more tracks and a series of warehouses and other commercial structures.

A nine-block area extending from Monroe Street on the west to Division Street on the east, and including all the riverfront on the south bank (between the river's edge and Trent Avenue) and about half the length of the river area along the bank (that stretching between Howard and Division streets), provides some 50 to 60 acres of usable space, with the 'hidden river,' its islands, and falls as the predominant topographical features. . .

On this site it is planned to hold a six-month international exhibition, from May 1 to October 30, 1974, on the subject of man's relationship to his environment—'Progress Without Pollution.' The clearing and redevelopment of the site, which will become a downtown civic, cultural, and recreational center after the Centennial, will itself be an example of ecological renewal. The Spokane Centennial Association intends to seek the endorsement of the Bureau of International Expositions as a Special Category event, and, in the traditional exposition mode, the 'world ecology fair' will make its appeal to the visitor through a broad spectrum of activities, exhibits, shows, and entertainment. The basic exhibit theme will be the environmental world of the future and how it can be achieved. Participation will be offered to governments and institutions, commerce and industry, and private organizations.

The exposition fits well into the overall concept of the nation's bicentennial celebration for 1976, as proposed by the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission in its Report to the President of July 4, 1970. That concept calls for a 'multi-city' program of major celebration events, and sets as the goal of the year-long 'Festival of Freedom': '. . .to forge a new national commitment, a new spirit for '76. . . . a spirit which will unite the nation in purpose and in dedication to the advancement of human welfare as it moves into its third century.' As an element of the bicentennial observation, it urges 'high priority,' and promises Commission 'help and endorsement,' to 'efforts to improve quality of life in this country.'

It is therefore proposed that the Spokane centennial exposition be integrated into the nation's bicentennial observations. The 1974 event can be fitted into the Commission-recommended framework of a Bicentennial 'Era'; the site could then be used in 1975 for summer festival purposes (also advocated by the Commission); and, in 1976, Spokane could reconstitute its 1974 format as a quality-of-life exhibition tied in with the multi-city observations of the bicentennial year. This affords maximum utilization of the site development for celebration purposes.

The scope of the present study is limited, however, to Spokane's 1974 centennial exposition on Man and His Environment, and the attendance and financial projections summarized in the following subsections pertain only to that undertaking.

Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest