Monday, February 05, 2007

Brain Drain - Does Size Matter?

This is a subject that is quite prominent in my life right now as my friends are really starting to enter their careers and beginning to invest in real estate. The question that comes up: "Is Albuquerque really the place for me at this stage in my life?"

This subject comes up periodically on forums throughout the web and the answers range from "run far, far away from ABQ" to "It's a beautiful city with everything you need." From my personal perspective, I would estimate that 60% of my acquaintances say there is just something about Albuquerque that just doesn't foster the single life as one would hope. My kneejerk reaction to such comments is along the lines of the old saying, "the grass is always greener on the other side." But after significant thought on the matter, I really do have to question the validity of these comments.

As much as I approve (for the most part) of Mayor Marty's performance and the city's overall direction during his term, there is something to be desired. His policies have pushed for affordable housing, safe streets and economic development at first glance. Each of these are vital to a healthy city, however, it does nothing beyond the keeping with the norm.

Looking deeper, our city is and has always been a college and technology town. Nearly college 50,000 students plus Intel and Sandia/Kirtland. Throw in a dash or two or eight of art and culture and I feel like that's a decent summation of our city. Still, once those college students graduate, a good deal of them leave for Denver, Phoenix and even Dallas. Those that remain go on to jobs with local companies, purchase single family homes in the NE heights or NW, have children of their own and continue the cycle.

Recently, a study was published showing 51% of all women in the country are single. That would suggest a similar rate for men. Are we a conservative city that would like all our citizens to be married, having children and living in our single family dwellings?

Large cities are attractive to the 20s and 30s crowd, not necessarily as a result their size but because they offer a diverse range of opportunities, housing and otherwise. In Albuquerque, we are trapped by a size complex believing we "can't" do something because of our size. However, I think we hinder ourselves by not looking for alternatives and just going with the flow because it is perceived to be working even when it really is not.

There are cities around the globe, and even in the US that are as large as Albuquerque and even significantly smaller that offer variety and "vibe" that attract young and old alike. It's the built environment that is the key. Having an attractive natural environment is definately a huge boost, and in that regard we are second to none. But that natural beauty can only go so far. Throughout the West, places like Boise, Salt Lake City, Reno and others can provide similar settings. Our built environment and culture/vibe are what truly set us apart. Me thinks we need a changing of the guard so to speak. I don't want to wait till my 40s to see this place get there.

OK, I may have rambled on and gotten off topic. But, these are issues this city needs to take into consideration before we can even think about competing with Denver, Austin, Portland, etc. I'm not saying we should be like them, just suggesting we could provide certain amenities that make these places attractive to all groups of people.


Book Reader said...

Word. I wholeheartedly agree--Albuquerque does have a 'size complex.'

I'm in one of those graduate schools North of Lomas, so I spend most days surrounded by soon to be young professionals. Speaking for myself and those I associate with, Albuquerque is a tough sell. The city has all the potential in the world, but for whatever reason people here don't want it realize.

I'm not sure how to diagnose the size complex.

The city is hesitant to move. Growth here is inevitable; the city ought to acknowledge it and choose to grow with it. Planning for the future ought to start today.

That said, I know my colleagues for the most part love the city, but have a hard time justifying staying here. Something is missing from Albuquerque. There is a buzz we lack, and it is disheartening.

Things have improved and I suppose they will continue, but I'm with you--I don't want to wait another 20 years.

Albuquerque needs to catch that buzz, otherwise its talent is going to fly the coup.

brendisimo said...

Thanks for your new post...I love Albuquerque, it has a down-to-earth vibe about it and lots of really cool spots if you know where to look. The people are pretty laid back and the climate and surrounding terrain are awesome. But you are right, there is a certain "vibe" that is lacking. I think it all boils down to density. The other cities you mentionaed: portland, austin etc. have seriously walkable areas where young people can live, work, and play without depending on a car. When more people live closer together, more small businesses open up to offer services to them, making the entire neighborhood more interesting. We need more densely populated areas, including downtown, along the central corridor, and maybe a few other outlaying areas. It would be great to be able to live downtown and not have to drive to get groceries. It'd be nice to walk to the hardware store and not drive way out to home-depot. The more people are comingling and crossing paths, the more ideas are shared, more experiences to be had, more galleries, cafes, parks etc to enjoy. And I'm not just talking about more expensive lofts everywhere, we need diversity too. We need density that is affordable to a wide cross-section of the population.

James said...

I agree with everything that's been said here, and I can attest that I was one of those young professionals that left ABQ in search of the buzz in San Francisco and Chicago.

I think a great start to create density would be the modern streetcar project. I'm planning on returning to ABQ in the next five years and after living in cities where there was high density and streetcars (SF) and light rail (SF and Chi.) it's going to take some getting used to to have to drive everywhere again - especially if the busses are on a limited schedule.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your post. I was born and raised in ABQ.. I went to UNM and even held my first job there after graduation. However, I quickly realized the amount of money I could make in Dallas and left. That was over twelve years ago. I miss living there very much and wish I could return, but it's just not economically feasible.

I'm not really sure the "vibe" or "buzz" are the problem.