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Pioneer Square: Embrace 'Real Change'

An effort to ban the newspaper's office from the historic district is wrong-headed, and self-defeating.
Real Change's longtime location in Belltown.

Real Change's longtime location in Belltown. Joe Copeland/Crosscut

Timothy Harris of <i>Real Change</i>

Timothy Harris of Real Change realchangenews.org

Timothy Harris is a passionate advocate for Seattle's downtrodden. He's funny, sharp-tongued, smart and speaks his mind. He has a knack for pissing people off, from The Seattle Times over his opposition to tougher panhandling laws to members of the Pioneer Square Community Association who are opposed to having Harris and his Real Change newspaper in their backyard. In fact, they are trying to bar him from the neighborhood.

Many Pioneer Square merchants and residents (shall we call them Pioneer Squares?) are worried that their district is overwhelmed with folks in need of social services, the homeless, the sleazy, the destitute. It is ground-zero for many of downtown's urban woes. Please, they have asked the city, don't dump any more problems here.

It shouldn't be a surprise, I suppose, that Harris and his operation should be treated as pariahs. Non-profit Real Change thrives off the efforts of street people, who are its vendors. It is viewed by some as not a newspaper but a social service agency, and the Square has enough of those. Nor do some want to welcome a man who helped defeat a panhandling ordinance that, in their eyes, would have helped Pioneer Square's chances to change its image, clean up its act.

Harris and others argued that the Tim Burgess-proposed panhandling ordinance would be misused by the police. The Pioneer Square Community Association, it seems to me, has just made themselves Exhibit A of a mentality that is exactly what Harris has warned us about. The argument against Real Change is that it operates as a "wholesaler," a prohibited use in the neighborhood. The basis of that argument is that it sells its papers to street vendors, who keep the proceeds. By that definition, most paid city newspapers with news vendors are wholesalers. The city rejected the claim, but the neighborhood association is appealing and finding new arguments to bar the paper.

But Real Change is not a widget factory, it's a newspaper; it has first amendment protections and ought to be able to operate in the Square as other newspapers have. Seattle Weekly started as a paid newspaper in the Square, selling newspapers through newsstands, contractors and vendors. No one tried to kick the Weekly out with such arguments. And what about Pioneer Square game and software companies that license their content, are they now wholesalers too? The whole thing seems more like harassment.

The effort is doubly absurd because Real Change is a model of success, addressing some of the Square's particular problems. It actually gives employment to the very street people others complain about. It is a step up, a helping hand, a way out. Pioneer Square ought to be embracing Real Change, not bunkering down. The problem isn't Tim Harris and his newsie army, it's that we need to find more ways to do what Real Change has done: helping to turn street folks into legitimate entrepreneurs, to give them an alternative to panhandling, begging and crime. As Pioneer Square considers adopting the national Main Street program, efforts like Harris' are examples of the small-scale solutions that are essential to turning the district around. Help is far more readily available by that route than by assuming that society or the market will simply solve the problem.

The attack on Real Change is symptomatic of a problem that the Square's own revitalization consultant, Donovan Rypkema, has identified: too much "whining." In his report late last year about how to help the Square, Rypkema ripped the inertia, lack of leadership and infighting in the neighborhood. And he explicitly stated that Pioneer Square's future is not to find a way to get rid of street people, who have been there since the beginning of Seattle, but to add to the neighborhood by bringing new people in. He also criticized the Square for being too down on itself, for continually seeing the glass as half-empty. It's a mentality that fusses about Real Change rather than finding ways to support its approach.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, May 24, 9:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Using zoning reguilations to censor Real Change out of Pioneer Square is indeed fraught with First Amendment problems. Unless Real Change can somehow be linked up to Al Qaeda. That of course would trump free speech rights (and the rest of the Constitution to boot). Where is GW Bush now that we really need him?

woofer

Posted Mon, May 24, 9:52 a.m. Inappropriate

For those who say they speak for Pioneer Square and oppose the Real Change Newspaper coming to the District, I say shame on you!

Pioneer Square has had an historical interest and effective activism in treating the homeless and down and out's with humane and effective programs. It has done a better job at this than anywhere else in the City or County.
Real Change is another positive effort to help the subject peoples. They pay rent. And, they do not support criminal or amoral activities.
Their success is everyones success.
They should be welcomed not opposed. Pioneer Square businesses should buy advertizing in the newspaper to show support for their way of giving otherwise street people the opportunity to become productive citizens.

Do the right thing!

Arthur M. Skolnik FAIA

Posted Mon, May 24, 10:01 a.m. Inappropriate

Real Change is exactly the kind of entity Pioneer Square should welcome.
It is constructive and is reflective of the best instincts of the city.

Would a vacant storefront be more helpful to Pioneer Square's revival?
Given that kind of thinking, it makes you wonder if the place can have a comeback.

Posted Mon, May 24, 10:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Real Change is also a refreshing breath of different air from the corporate blather that the Seattle Times puts out.

Speaking about the pan handling law, it was Real Change that identified the source of the data. And that in fact the people counting aggressive pan handlers came up with a grand total of 25 people, one of which is the guy with the "Smile have a happy day" down at the ferry foot bridge overpass from 1st. Come-on! The last thing this city needed was one more law to harass homeless folk.

It's Real Change that has the expose on the bed bug problem in the housing run by the Seattle Housing Authority. Where was the article in the Seattle Times on that? No wonder some homeless chose to sleep outside under a bridge vs getting a bed bug infestation.

It's Real Change that did the story on "Housing First" which shows that giving a drunk a place to live before working on his addition issues increased his chances dealing with that addiction successfully.

And nothing like giving a homeless person a legitimate item to sell vs the dope that is sold at 3rd & Pike and down in Belltown. At least when they are hawking papers, they are providing a service to the community vs just sitting around collecting a check.

Besides, a guy standing on corner hawking a paper...how much closer to the Pioneer life can you get?

GaryP

Posted Mon, May 24, 1:05 p.m. Inappropriate

What I appreciate about Berger's article is not just the cogent analysis. It's how the author navigates the tricky territory between wishing success on a deeply worthy enterprise and wishing that the leader of the enterprise would control his temper and his rhetoric. In an era when so much public discourse consists of loud, uncompromising, destroy-the-enemy oppositions, Berger shows us a better way.

Posted Mon, May 24, 2:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Helle Soholt, Founding Partner of Gehl Architects [urbn planning consultants] in Copenhagen gave a lecture at SAM February 23, 2010 entitled: Seattle’s Public Life. Soholt compared Seattle’s downtown livability with other international cities. At the end of her lecture, during the question and answer period, a man in the audience asked what should be done about the street people, especially in Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market. Soholt answered that street people are part of every urban culture. What Seattle needs are more people [of every age and description] on the street --not just more police. The on-going clash between merchants in Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market [plus the larger retail district]and people of-the-street indicate resource deprivation.
According to Soholt , Seattle needs to place people in the center of planning and move beyond safety and comfort towards lively and livable. I would agree with Tom Douglas’ ‘salmon bake’ idea if he used the money towards feeding the needy and located the food event outside one of his Market restaurants. It makes no sense to fill Historic Victor Steinbrueck Park children’s play area with the hot coals of a barbeque pit.
The downtown corridor lacks public parks/open space and pedestrian and bicycle connections/routes. Soholt described further that Seattle’s unique downtown has three neighborhood-like districts: retail core, office core and Pioneer Square. Would that the Pioneer Square Community Association work on a greater vision that would include a great main street, pedestrian connections,a new street car line, active ground floor frontages and welcome Harris and Real Change as Knute says: “enlist him in the revitalization we all would like to see.”

Posted Mon, May 24, 5:27 p.m. Inappropriate

In addition to lack of significant park space, the downtown core also lacks schools and supermarkets. City planners seem to regard everything from Belltown to Pioneer Square as a cash cow, and not much else. That's why they wish the homeless people would just go away. The brazen, boosterish way in which the Pioneer Square "Community" Association opposes the right of Real Change to operate in Pioneer Square could backfire if large numbers of people decide not to by anything from their members. Their contempt for poor and homeless people creates the opposite of a "lively and livable" neighborhood.

Mud Baby

Posted Mon, May 24, 7:48 p.m. Inappropriate

Berger's an excellent journalist. Harris is a very good writer and a movement leader/advocate. He's got an encyclopedic knowledge of the systemic causes of homelessness and he's pretty disgusted, as anyone with such knowledge would be, with how there's no real attempt at systemic change. That disgust shows itself in less-than-calm rhetoric, as it does with most advocates who aren't just trying to get along and who may have personality characteristics that aren't always likeable. There is a time for polite discourse and there is a time for knocking doors down and not caring particularly if people like what you say (including about Joni Balter, who definitely says what she thinks about others, often less than politely). We need to respect the necessity for both ways of communicating or we're never going to get people's attention about what's wrong, let alone help solve it. This isn't about polite public discourse; it's about injustice.

sarah

Posted Tue, May 25, 10:33 a.m. Inappropriate

In a free society, if Mr. Harris found a landlord who would rent space to him, and the landlord agreed to the transaction, the issue would be closed. This situation is an indictment of aggressive zoning laws, nothing else. Obviously, some zoning is necessary to protect property values. Nobody wants a panel-stamping plant to open in the middle of their residential neighborhood. But by its interference in what would normally be a benign business transaction, the City of Seattle, through unreasonable regulation, has created an opportunity for all sorts of mischief on the part of "concerned citizens."

dbreneman

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