Monthly Staff Feature: Lisa Howard, Alliance for Pioneer Square ED

In her role as Executive Director of the Alliance, Lisa uses her strong relationships with city leaders and key organizations to advocate for the neighborhood and the issues that impact Pioneer Square at the city, county, and state levels.

This month, we discuss how 2021 is going, opportunities on the horizon and Lisa’s view and vision for recovery going forward

Earlier this year, you said recovery wasn’t going to be linear, that there would be ups and downs, good days and bad. How are things going so far?

Looking around, I see so many great things happening in Pioneer Square. Pioneer Square is doing what it does best – remaining authentic through it all. The good days have been many and the bad days tend to hit hard. A couple weeks ago over 30 volunteers came down to work with the Alliance and Seattle Department of Transportation to weed and mulch the First Ave S medians. It was such a fun event and really proved that even if recovery has its ups and downs, there are people that care enough to keep showing up. 

Looking into the near future, what opportunities are on the horizon?

I’m excited to answer this question as fall and winter bring so many great things here in the neighborhood. Fall always feels so fresh at the end of summer. Gameday is back after a long hiatus and we are excited to welcome fans back into the district. First Thursday Art Walk is alive and well. Peace Peloton’s Makers Night Market continues on, moving to First Thursday. Thrill the World will be back (check out their 2019 performance here). 

The holiday plans are also shaping up. Howlidays, Lusio Lights, and our iconic tree lights will be back and multiple markets will be going on throughout the district in December. The Pioneer Square online marketplace brings the Square to you, and retailers are open to help you find something perfect for everyone in your life. 

Talk a little about the challenges we still face. How do we overcome them?

The big elephant in the room is public safety, and how to reduce the impact on the district and carry the conversation forward to reach some real solutions. 

 Public safety is a hot topic within local elections and the candidates represent vastly different approaches to the problem. It is more critical than ever to make an informed decision when voting. No matter the outcome, we remain committed to working with City Hall and all departments to both bring attention to the myriad of challenges Pioneer Square faces and work towards programs that respond to the needs across the district.  

Unfortunately, we are yet to see the last days of this pandemic. What does it mean to support Pioneer Square now compared to before?

In some ways support looks the same – visit, explore, shop, dine, volunteer. Those actions are all critical for Pioneer Square’s recovery. The difference now is we call people to be more intentional. Data shows that office workers continue to work from home while there is an uptick in tourism and gameday visitors. Many people have fallen out of the habit of meeting up for happy hour, setting out on an urban hike, or going out for dinner. Those chances for connection are critically important for us as a society, and our small businesses are here to serve you, with Covid protocols firmly in place. 

What is your view and vision for recovery going forward?

There is a lot of talk about work from home – the conveniences, the option of hard pants. There is also a lot of validity in that being an option for many people. 

 As the legendary Jane Jacobs stated, “New ideas need old buildings.” Pioneer Square will be the place for businesses and people that want to connect. The place where people can build teams and start new things. The small town feel where if you go grab coffee, you’ll run into an acquaintance that can re-energize your entire day. It will continue to be a place where grit and tenacity pay off, and people from all walks of life coexist.

 Anything else you’d like to cover this month?  

Please think critically about anything you read in the headlines, especially right now. Walking through the district late last week, the post-pandemic opportunities were so apparent. The neighborhood was clean and pretty much everything was in good repair. Occidental Mall in its shameless beauty sat ready to switch over from summertime art installations to the iconic holiday lighting. The rain had swept the summer away and the sun was shining. It was nice.

When you read a headline and both “crime” and “Pioneer Square” are mentioned – read the rest of the story. Every couple of years we face a cycle of frequent negative press, and it has real impacts, a classic case of death by a thousand cuts. Small businesses are being impacted by the combined impact of a prolonged pandemic, extended intense construction period, and concentration of humans in crisis.

Focusing on the concentration of humans in crisis – it is complex and hard and an issue that needs to be solved regionally, without the majority of the burden continuing to fall on Pioneer Square. For decades we’ve been complacent in trying to do too much with too little, without a plan or resources to either get people better OR keep people safe. Under the leadership of Marc Dones and the Regional Homelessness Authority we are finally having conversations that don’t conflate homelessness and crime, but understand the intersection and factors that go into the solution.

When you read a headline like that – dive deeper. Look at all of the investments into the district right now. Or don’t – but don’t assume that’s the entire story.

When you read a headline like that – go. Go make a donation to one of our many service providers so they can continue to support our most marginalized populations every day, year after year.  Go grab a beer before a game. Go book a staycation. Go to dinner. Go take your family for a fall photo shoot in the neighborhood. Go shop. Consider it a call to action to support Pioneer Square