Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Zia Station. Fail

I about peed my pants when I read about the scale of this project. $200 million and 620,000 sq. ft. on 28 acres. That's no ABQ Uptown in terms of cramming buildings into a land parcel, but after phases I and II, I thought this project might blow the Duke City project out of the water. A true transit oriented development and true mixed use! Could this finally be my urban village nirvana in northern NM?

Upon further research of the details, my ephemeral hopes were completely and utterly destroyed.

First off, the architect is none other than the same group that brought us sprawling ABQ Uptown. Don't get me wrong, I love the Apple store and Borders but I hate constantly dodging traffic while giddily racing to fondle the latest Mac gadget or purchase the latest Metropolis magazine. The entire design, while neat, was poorly executed and failed to deliver what was intended.

In similar fashion, the plan view appears to contain a thousand lines representing parking spaces that line every building. I'm not referring to parallel, on-street parking, either. See for yourself.1,600 parking spaces? Wow. Isn't the intent of transit oriented development to lend itself to a citizen's ability to use leg power for meeting one's basic needs? The scale of this development does not suggest there will be any major retail that might have a regional draw. Therefore, its only patrons will be the living/working population. Potentially, Santa Fe residents may park in one of the convenient parking options and ride the bird to the Duke City. But 1,600 parking spaces? Where's the incentive to not drive?

Lastly, the cost. How much for the residential units and what rates for the offices and retail? The NMBW states that office rents will be at the upper end of the Santa Fe market. It also states that apartment rentals will be around $1000. We're left to assume that retail rates will be high as well. It will be interesting to find out who's willing to shell out the dough for this site. I have no doubt this project will lease up rapidly, none the less. Retailers will want to be a part of this in an effort to suck money out of the employees of companies paying the high lease rates.

Ramble, ramble, ramble. It's another step in the right direction. I often place a lot of blame on DPS Architects for poor design but I know our archaic building codes are hell to work around (like placing 1,600 parking spaces in this site). Santa Fe is a cut above the rest when dealing with such issues. I like what it's attempting to do but I think it falls short in providing the Santa Fe area what it truly needs in the way of lower to middle class housing. I'm utterly envious Santa Fe is attracting this type of development ahead of the RailRunner's completion to the site, whereas Albuquerque is still awaiting a developer with the cojones and $ to do the same.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Now Taking Reservations

The Hotel Andaluz and its 107 well appointed rooms will be a nice addition to downtown. It will be fantastic to add additional sidewalk seating to the downtown scene. That such seating will be part of a seemingly classy restaurant is the icing on the cake. Goodman has done, well...good.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Density Commeth

Sean Gilligan (and architect, Traveston Elliot) does it again. He's provided terrifically priced, well designed urban homes in a high value area. These are the first renderings I have seen for this project and I have nothing but positive things to say. Let's hope the prices remain friendly unlike the 25% last minute increase seen in the originally 100% reserved, but hardly inhabited $200+/sq. ft. Roma Condos.

But (there's always a but), is this really the best location for this type of use - across from a regional transportation hub? Time will tell.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

More Foresight, Please

As of next week, I will have been away for a full year. Needless to say, I am not fully in tune with the wheelings and dealings of city hall these days. However, I'm fairly sure that very little attention is being paid to the (enter green movement catchphrase/word here) of the city of Albuquerque. Mayor Marty sells the "Q" as some sort of city ahead of its time and ahead of the curve when it comes to being a green city. But what exactly does that mean?

From the outside, we're nearly a million people inhabiting an arid region that cannot supply the necessary resources. We're a sprawling sun-belt city living in single family homes with rock lawns while enduring commutes that rival those of larger cities due to our failure to plan. The shortfalls of our environment to sustain us is well documented so I won't delve into that aspect in great detail.
To this day, Mayor Marty has exhalted his successes in [reducing our use]. We have, in large numbers I might ad, converted to low flow fixtures, made xeriscaping into an attractive trend, built an expensive gray water system for municipal park use, and created an initiative to build LEED-certified municipal buildings. As part of the bike-friendly-city, there is now a bike-sharing program that could even be considered a part of this "green" movement.

Every single one of these initiatives are not to be belittled to any extent as they sum up to more than a metaphorical band-aid on the situation. I'll be optimistic and categorize it as more of a large gauze strip. But clearly the sytem is still broken and requires much more maintenance to heal. With population growth annually between 1% and 3%, we're adding more consumption than we're making up for with such eco-friendly initiatives. I don't have any concrete numbers on this but it doesn't take rocket science to come to this conclusion.

Reviewing recent census data estimates, the city of Albuquerque is adding approximately half of the metro area's total population growth. That means that the other half is moving into the suburbs and exurbs surrounding ABQ. I haven't seen much in the way of infill as compared to the rows and rows of tract housing in Volcano Heights, the SW mesa, Rio Rancho, Placitas (with their minimum 1/4 acre lots), and Valencia County. Therefore, it is clear an overwhelming majority of this growth is migrating to the detached, single family homes that most of us dwell in. Additionally, our job growth is mostly occurring in areas such as Mesa del Sol and the north I-25 corridor. This compounds our travel difficulties by funneling everyone onto our three major arteries, I-25, I-40 and Paseo del Norte.

Periodically, articles are written concerning our increasingly time-consuming commutes, high gas prices, and thickening brown cloud. But year after year, citizens grumble about the issues and do nothing to amend the situation. Instead of demanding more necessary measures, we demand more roads. And instead of altering our neighborhoods to accommodate larger populations and a mix of uses, we demand our government to fix what we are individually guilty of creating.

The perfect recent examples of this are the Sheffield condos near UNM and the decade-long downtown revitalization effort. Central Avenue has historically and forever will remain our most dense corridor. In an effort to balance growth among infill and growth at the edge, neighborhoods will have to adapt and accept such necessary change. The corridor from UNM to downtown, in particular, must adapt. No longer should neighbors be able to cry solar rights when one lives in the center of a metropolitan region. It is nothing short of selfish. Those individuals, who may or may not claim to be more environmentally green than their suburban counterparts is equally responsible for adding to our car dependant, brown cloud inducing society by subscribing to such misoneism.

In the case of downtown, citizens grumble that downtown isn't the success its stakeholders set out to create and unnecessarily blame it on the city and Downtown Action Team (DAT) for its shortfalls. But at what point did citizens contribute to the effort? Ten years ago, approximately $25 million (this isn't a precise number but an close guesstimation) of taxpayer money was used when then mayor Baca stated the desire for revitalization. With that money, a couple parking garages, the Alvarado Transportation Center, and a taxpayer subsidized movie theatre were constructed. In response to that effort, the private sector has pitched in approximately a quarter million dollars for renovations and new construction throughout the area. Part of that was the result of a larger, national movement but it still accurately conveys the relation amongst private investment to municipal spending and infrastructural/catalyst type public investment.

Now, how does downtown revitalization, NIMBY-ism, and expensive condos tie into the environmentally sustainable city we all want to see you ask? Well, density is the "evil" word that no politician is willing to utter but is, begrudgingly to many people, the simple answer. An increase in density and revitalization through the construction of mixed-income housing, offices and inviting public spaces will make it possible for us to grow and sustain healthy, future populations in our region. Energy consumption for dense city dwellers is a fraction that of the suburban dwelling set. The adjoining walls and multiple levels of multi-family residential construction result in greatly reduced utility requirements. Population density results in increased public transportation requirements which allow people to live free of motor vehicles.

Now, imagine an Albuquerque with 1.5 million residents living in single family homes. Picture Austin traffic and a Phoenix-like aerial view. Now imagine that same 1.5 million residents but lets take half of that growth (1/2 of 600,000 ) and place them in mixed-use, denser neighborhoods. The result would resemble a mix of what we currently have with less traffic congestion than Austin due to growth at the edges, several dense neighborhoods that might resemble the north side of Chicago or much of San Francisco, and interconnecting mass transit. The more density that can be created will correlate into a greater reduction in energy consumption. Judging by what I know about "Burque's" love of it's views and sunshine, the manhattanization of our region will never be an issue. But a reduction in lawns and yards, a reduction in building heating and cooling loads (due to less wall exposures to the outside air), and less of a population dependant on air polluting vehicles would have an enormous affect on our sustainability. It would be foolish to continue rejecting 4-story buildings that lie one block away from our major pedestrian and commercial thoroughfares served by public transportation. To do so would be selfish and short sighted.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Downs

San Mateo County's answer to an obsolete racetrack. Lessons learned for Albuquerque? Article

A Nerd Moment

I'm not sure if any of you follow science much but this particle accelerator in Geneva is pretty big news as it is about to be fired up. Here's a fun video that explains it all.

We Are Not Alone

It is interesting when observing local discussions concerning the desires and needs of citizens. Every situation seemingly requires reinvention of the wheel. Not that the solutions of other cities should ever be the archetype from which to replicate. Instead, it is good to know that cities share similarities and therefore, it is to our advantage to keep up with our peers to gain some perspective.

I've always argued that our very own Duke City has one of the most magnificent settings of all major cities in the country and that our potential exceeds our ability at this time.

I ran across an article out of Tampa Bay that expresses how many of us feel and I thought I would share it.

Now if we could only capitalize on this "potential" and do something about it. One day perhaps Albuquerque will be mentioned with the likes of Portland, Austin, San Francisco, etc.