The understory of Pioneer Square’s successful redevelopment
Seventy friends joined us for Seed & Feed where we explored the evolution of our urban neighborhoods through the lens of some of Pioneer Square’s chief revivalists.
Our third Seed & Feed evening focused on Pioneer Square as a model for thoughtful urban redevelopment. Leslie Smith, Alliance for Pioneer Square; Kevin Daniels, Daniels Real Estate; and Jane Richlovsky, Pioneer Square artist, resident and businesswoman shared unexpected anecdotes and lessons learned in Pioneer Square’s re-emergence as a key player in the city’s neighborhood scene.
And to top it off, we were hosted by Galvanize, a stunning shared workspace in a historic building fostering an innovative community of educators, tech startups and funders collaborating under one roof. The London Plane provided knockout locally produced farm-to-table bites.
Here are some of the surprising themes from the evening:
The need for mixed-income housing
Washington state has one of the highest rates of mental illness coupled with poor access to mental health services in the nation—it ranks 48th of 51 states. Pioneer Square is over-indexed with homeless shelters; it’s been the city’s hub for years. And it’s unique in that as the neighborhood improves, shelters and many social services aren’t at risk of displacement since they own the real estate.
Despite this, when new developments are proposed in Pioneer Square, the first thing the City inquires about is the amount of affordable housing included within the development. Economic diversity is paramount to our success as a community, and it’s becoming apparent in Pioneer Square’s evolution.
If anyone doubts that economic diversity works within the same building, all you have to do is point to the North Lot building. Mixed-income housing in a development project works if done right—I have evidence.
Retailers to serve the future
When Elliott Bay Book Company left Pioneer Square, people thought that was the last straw for the neighborhood given the upwards of 50 percent retail vacancy rate at the time. But some saw this as a critical turning point for the Square. It needed new retailers to attract new customers—the Elliott Bay regulars weren’t going to breathe the new life needed here. The Alliance and many real estate owners and developers are very selective in retail tenant selection to ensure a range of options for the people of the Square’s future. Retailers are curated and coached to effectively market and serve the evolving community. “It’s simple: The neighborhoods’ sports fans and lawyers don’t shop the way techies do. It’s better to sit on property and have it empty than to fill it for the sake of filling it.”
Mixing old and new: Respecting the past while looking ahead
The Alliance for Pioneer Square and its partners’ goal has never been to drive out Pioneer Square’s long-time community. Low-income housing residents and sports fans are important to the neighborhood’s culture. The Alliance encourages the responsible stewardship of the neighborhood so it’s a place for all to enjoy. Similarly, as new developments are introduced, they must complement the history and existing design. In developing Weyerhaeuser’s new campus in Occidental Park, Urban Visions and Mithun are deliberately designing a building that honors the past while innovating for the future.
We won’t tolerate bad behavior by anyone; whether a homeless person or a drunk sports fan, nobody is allowed to pee in the streets.
You can’t build an arts community from scratch
Pioneer Square has had a long-standing history of artists and art galleries calling it home. Artists need gallery space to show their work, and the Square has been a cornerstone for the arts community in Seattle for years. It’s hard to just open galleries out of the blue. The Square had good arts ‘bones’ to work with, which is one of the reasons Pioneer Square will continue to be an important arts district in the city.
Ample resources necessary for revitalization
“You can’t turn urban neighborhoods around with just volunteers and a little pocket change.” It requires dedicated people with foresight, tenacity and match-making intellect, which many communities have; but it also requires a good chunk of funding. Partnerships with developers and other investors are important to seeding the start of this change. People who live, work and play in the community all need to be a part of the solution from the very beginning.
Thank you to Galvanize for hosting us. Stay tuned for Forterra’s next Seed & Feed this fall.
About Seed & Feed
Seed & Feed is a series of talks by acclaimed thinkers addressing critical issues impacting the sustainability of our region. Past speakers include Bill McKibben, 350.org founder and Dean Lisa Graumlich, UW College of the Environment.
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