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Reporter looks at Spokane’s efforts to address disparities

Reporting for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., Shawn Vestal started by observing massive life-span disparities in the city and surrounding area (mapped by neighborhood), then started looking for causes.

Vestal begins with a fairly predictable correlation.

The difference between the longest-lived neighborhood in the county (Southgate) and the shortest-lived one (downtown) is about 18 years: an entire American childhood. But it is not simply a matter of extremes; neighborhood by neighborhood, there is a gradual rise in years of expected life that tracks the rise in neighborhood wealth.

But the story expands quickly, encompassing a variety of indicators and causes, some standard, some quite unique. Vestal even finds a project in which high school students compared beer and tobacco advertising and other visual signals between two nearby neighborhoods – a pair which just happen to have a decade’s difference in life expectancy between them.

Vestal describes what they found.

One startling comparison involved a pair of Conoco stations. The Comstock station has bushes and treed landscaping and a vintage Coke sign; the East Central station has not a single bit of greenery – not counting a stubborn weed or two – and an enormous red sign: “CHEAPEST BEER & CIGARETTES.”

Other unique Spokane efforts – many of which are geared toward improving entire neighborhoods, not just individual families – include a regular community open house to discuss health issues, city park cleanups, and streetlight repair.