Alan Jackson Little Man

Written by Kristen Griffin

A reference to historic districts in the music video for country singer Alan Jackson's "Little Man" caught my attention one night. In the video, Alan Jackson drives through small town business districts and sings "boarded up like they never existed, or renovated and called historic districts."

To be fair, it was kind of a throwaway line in an otherwise well-messaged song. Jackson drives home the point that we are losing something culturally important when we lose small towns and local businesses to chain and suburban-style development. But the implication that business and renovated historic districts are mutually exclusive made no sense to me. My experience with historic districts is just the opposite.

Historic districts make up half of Spokane, Washington’s core downtown business district. I started to make a mental list of all the times I walk across the threshold of a historic building to do business in a historic store, restaurant, hotel, office building, or theater. Not only do I work in a historic building, but I mail my packages in a historic building, go to the gym in a historic building, buy my books in a historic building, and get my hair cut in a historic building. My accountant is in a historic building, the newspapers I read are published in historic buildings, and my favorite coffee is roasted in a historic building. The list goes on.

Downtown Spokane. (Photo: Bryan Gosline on Flickr)

Last year for fun, and to demonstrate how deeply the historic buildings and districts in Spokane are integrated into the local economy, I impulsively committed for the month of April to try to find everything I needed in businesses located in historic buildings or within historic districts.

I realized immediately that this commitment was more involved than I had anticipated. Some important basics were hard to find (gas, for example) and my daily routine involved many non-historic destinations. Friends and colleagues stepped in to support me though, making recommendations of where I could find services and agreeing to reschedule meetings and social gatherings in historic buildings.

At the Rocket Bakery in Spokane.Guest Writer (Photo: Sarah Nitt on Flickr)

By the end of the first day, I noticed that my feet hurt. My usually close parking location in a non-historic garage was now off limits, which sent me farther afield and on foot. I was getting a daily demonstration of the fact that historic buildings and cities were designed and built for pedestrians.

Walking the footprint of historic Spokane was also heightening my awareness of its geography, texture, and density. I felt a new appreciation for the efficient early-20th-century commute between the small apartment buildings that housed the city's early residents and the nearby factories that employed them. I thought often about the streetcar system that influenced Spokane's development and the ease of catching a streetcar home, across town, or to the park at the end of the line.

RLG/Legacy Little Man
Digital Music Track (RLG/Legacy)

Alan Jackson

2008-08-04 15:07:17 by Little-man-?

I go back now and the stores are all empty
Except for an old coke sign from 1950
Boarded up like they never existed
Or renovated and called historic districts
There goes the little man
There goes the little man
Now the court square's just a set of streets
That the people go round but they seldom think
Bout the little man that built this town
Before the big money shut em down
And killed the little man
Oh the little man

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