Friday, June 27, 2008

Not So Expo New Mexico

An aerial view of the Expo area shows just how much space is being consumed by land that could be adding value to our tax base. Don't get me wrong, I'm not of the "grow, grow, grow" mantra, I just believe that this land has served its purpose and it is time to evolve. The Arabian Horse Show and PBR Rodeo Series are not returning any time soon. The Scorpions have moved on to the City of Vision but no gutters. Even the Downs are on their way to Moriarty. So what do we do with all of this land?

Some have suggested a new arena and expo center. Don't we already have one that we are currently paying for downtown in need of hotel rooms? The same thing will be necessary at this location except this location has zero in the way of infrastructure. Some people counter that the expo grounds provide greater access for the greater public. I would have to question whether they lived anywhere west of I-25 because this location is much more isolated and has far greater limited access from the freeways. In addition, the RailRunner provides direct access to our existing convention center/(possible arena).

Many citizens argue that investing in major public transit systems such as light-rail is a waste of money because of the high initial cost of implementation. What they nearly always forget to take into account is the effect such infrastructure has on its environment. For example, increasing the amount of buses along Central Ave will never convince a developer to spend his money on a location when he knows that a city can, at any moment, redirect such forms of transit. Conversely, if a city spends money on transportation infrastructure such as rail, a developer knows that he/she can expect a certain level of traffic near his development for some time to come - potentially till the building is paid for.

To make a long story short, it's going to take an investment from the public to change how our city is growing. We can't expect the "market" to do it for us. We'll never convince a developer to give us the arena we want without paying him/her back. There is no private company in the world that builds and operates a revenue generating mass transit system because it does not exist. These are basic infrastructure projects only we can invest in and build. We'll always have a Dallas/Phoenix-like city as long as we piss and moan about our quality of life and lack of options if we aren't willing to make the effort to change ourselves. It's like your home; if you aren't making investments in upgrading or maintaining, then it's probably not increasing in value.

Salt Lake City, a place laid out much like our very own metropolitan area has made the initial investment and now the nearby cities are literally fighting over who will get the right to obtain a train stop for commuters along with the walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods associated with this type of development. See the pictures below. Wouldn't this site be a terrific location, between downtown and uptown, to capture such a new form of development?

The amount of space available at Expo New Mexico lends itself to hundreds of uses. From new office space, single family detached homes, urban living, parks, soccer fields, etc. Oh the possibilities...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fresh Renderings

I think this looks better than what they advertised early on in the design process as seen on BAT, here (scroll down).

The North side of the building along Silver Ave.
Courtyard View.
Overall plan.
I wouldn't mind the windmills as they were a bit whimsical and cool looking. I definitely think this design is slightly more elegant than the generic looking structure they originally proposed. Overall, I would have liked to have seen another level or two. Additionally, I hated that this concept provides a garage on three sides but I forget that the Lead overpass covers most of the southern facade. Hopefully the parking structure is attractive and arty like the PNM garage. I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that the property to the west provides some increased density. Eight stories isn't too much to ask for is it?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Get It Together Already

Touching on a topic that is quite near and dear to me is Albuquerque's lack of ability to keep young intellectual capital. Young professionals that move here to work for up and coming technology companies as well as our established institutions are often faced with the prospect of remaining in the city with great outdoor activities, a little funky culture, neat little museums and aquarium, or move on to cities that contain the types of amenities and varying nightlife that is so desirable among late 20 through early 40-somethings.

Meanwhile, cities such as Des Moines, Omaha, Oklahoma City, etc. are investing in their inner cities attempting to raise their status among liveable cities. All this effort is to ultimately attract the companies we take for granted that are landing and growing in our very own backyards. They are investing in the beautifying of their civic parks, building arenas and concert halls, building amazing pedestrian bridges over newly developed riverfronts and selecting world-renowned architects to design stunning public libraries. They are actively supporting the networks that are encouraging indie musics latest names as well as supporting artists in an effort to build on their current assets.

Mayor Chavez, on the other hand, appears to be gung ho on making our city a place for families. Meanwhile, he's forgetting about the 50% of adults whom command greater disposable income whom are increasingly looking to dwell in cities that provide them the quality of life that assists them in maintaining a desired quality of life. With companies like Fidelity, Schott Solar, Advent, and a slew of other nascent companies, we now have the companies from which to bank our future. But what is somehow being forgotten is the maintenance and update required in our growing city. In the last decade, we've added an interchange, small updates to our museums and that's all I can remember. In the meantime, we have created tax increment financing districts to subsidize family-friendly sprawling developments dependent on a driving public and expanded utility services in a metropolitan area that is rapidly approaching 1 million residents.
Last month the New York Times released a study which showed the average distances people commute to work. Our county did not prove to be friendly to those looking for jobs close to home. Increasingly, people have moved to the west side where jobs have been slow to come. Furthermore, instead of investing in downtown and encouraging companies to locate downtown, the city has taken no responsibility in any part of this "planning." When Blue Cross Blue Shield was looking for a location to build it's new headquarters, it was rumored that the final decision was made by a managed who based it on its proximity to her home. The city, instead, should have been at the table and suggesting a location that currently remains an empty parking lot or decaying property somewhere nearer to the inner city where workers could potentially take the bus or Rail Runner. I won't complain about the architecture of the new facility because I am a big fan, but I detest the location because it is literally on the edge of the city limits.
Similarly, while the RailRunner has been in operation for nearly two years, zero transit-oriented development has been built to take advantage of the current market. These villages, in other cities, have become interesting centers for citizens of all types to live, work and play. The live, work and play tag is becoming so cliche it's almost annoying but there is great value in the concept. Cities across the country are striving to develop mass transit in an effort to create these districts because of the revenue they generate due to the demand by citizens looking for such a lifestyle. Somehow, our city has managed to stifle and squander this opportunity.

Bad Council, Bad

What a mistake the council has made in rejecting this project. The neighborhood nimby's shouldn't have the power that this city has granted them. What a terrible precedence. This is the type of project that the city should be encouraging along Central Ave. From the Rio Grande up to San Meteo. What a great transition from an urban avenue (Central) to a neighborhood. I hope Sheffield Partners continues its efforts to develop in our sometimes impossible city.

Traffic Congestion

A brilliant plan. I was skeptical at first but how is this not a terrific option? Rail-Runner, Rapid Ride, Convention Center proximity, maintenance of the existing Baptist church, aesthetically pleasing train track awnings. There will always be naysayers who will whine and complain. Traffic congestion and parking shouldn't even be an issue when discussing this project as it lies in the core of our downtown. People should not have the option of parking in a lot 200 feet from the door as there is plenty of on-street parking and parking garages within a quarter mile of the facility as designed. As far as I'm concerned, the Fairgrounds need to be developed into a mixed-use community a-la Mesa del Sol for mixed-income residents complete with beautiful public spaces for weekend soccer matches and picnics. Expo centers are mere relics as "the city" is the new arena for such activities.
Over on DukeCityFix, someone said that Albuquerque needs to study other cities and stop thinking for itself. I must second this motion. Dozens of cities have taken this route and none have been disappointed with the results. Charlotte is one of those cities (shown above) where they have managed to build an arena and transit station a block apart. As a result, a new office building, Four Seasons hotel and performing arts center have followed. Albuquerque is falling behind in offering its citizens the amenities people look for in a hometown. Despite the opinions of some, there are plenty of young citizens making lots of dough in the Duke City. Sadly, we're often forced to hit the road to Denver, Phoenix, Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, etc. to see our favorite bands and get a taste of city life. ABQ has so much to offer and it is so close to offering the variety and flavor that is so desirable for young folk but for one reason or another, the small minded, conservative people tend to get their way in our city and, thus, finds itself static while cities like Omaha, Des Moines, Tulsa, Austin, Charlotte, etc. make impressive progress in recreating their cities and attracting college educated residents who actually stay awhile.

I say stop wasting our money on repetitive studies and BUILD IT ALREADY!