Pioneer Square: feeling vulnerable

It's a soulful neighborhood, but its extreme diversity and building restrictions make it a little tougher to weather a downturn
It's a soulful neighborhood, but its extreme diversity and building restrictions make it a little tougher to weather a downturn

Pioneer Square has taken a few hits from Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman as well as in a recent Danny Westneat column. But Pioneer Square is alive and well, still a small yet vibrant neighborhood. Its strength lies in its diversity and unique character. Those of us who work and live in the Square have made it a soulful and intimate neighborhood, with the lovely distinction of being strong yet vulnerable.

Consider some of Pioneer Square's unusual characteristics, if you would understand some of its current difficulties. Its economic diversity may be the most extreme of any neighborhood in Seattle, a fact that makes the health of the retail segments less certain than in many other neighborhoods — good times or bad. Our buildings are small in footprint and stubby in height, which means we host smaller businesses and incubate others, usually without the deep pockets needed to weather economic fluctuations.

The attractive human scale also means it is impossible to escape the realities of everyday life. The reminders of those less fortunate, the economy of illegal drugs, are harder to mask in this intimate environment. Being a historic district means many design guidelines, height constraints, and use restrictions that make development and growth more difficult. Fortunately, we have property owners with good intentions and the vision needed to implement growth for the future health of the neighborhood. Another advantage for development: major transportation intersecting nearby.

Local government could make things easier for this difficult place: by removing obstacles to the evolution of the area, by transcending the bureaucracy which needlessly slows progress, by facilitating the development of the north lot of Qwest Field and the parking lot east of Occidental Park, and by returning underutilized buildings not yet restored to productive use. All this will help bring more people into the neighborhood, night and day, supporting small business, filling up the streets and parks with friendly folks. That's what's needed to help dispel the negative stories, many of them myths and legends, that keep people away.

Pioneer Square will emerge from this economic downturn stronger than before. Just how much stronger depends on all of us. Loving this neighborhood is like being in a relationship — it takes a bit of work, a chunk of trust, and a strong commitment to success.


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