Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 Outro

Pondering the various activities that took place over the past year from my favorite downtown coffee shop I can't help but feel optimistic about 2011. In the past year we've seen the completion of several new housing developments within the downtown core as well as discussions of an downtown arena and hotel, a redeveloped Expo NM grounds, redeveloped railyards, and Winrock Town Center. Of course there's been whispers about developments further out of the city center but we like to minimize their significance here on UrbanABQ. These four projects have the potential to greatly alter the image of urban Albuquerque and each project's surrounding areas due to their sheer magnitude.
Currently, there's a proposal for Expo NM to expand the casino. It will be important for the International District to continue their dissent of this plan. The mere suggestion of such a lame solution reeks of laziness and lack of imagination. If state fair commissioners won't take into consideration the effects of that white elephant on it's surroundings then it's important for the community and city to make them see the error in their ways. This is where the councilor of that district and mayor would be helpful in voicing the concerns of the community. Fortunately, Senator Tim Keller, has been doing his job in advocating for a smarter approach.

Recently, Gary Goodman announced plans to begin construction at Winrock mall. I refuse to call it a town center till there's more than a sea of parking lots surrounding the entire site. While this proposal is small in scale, the theatre that was announced will do well to attract patrons to the area that currently lacks a nearby, modern cinema.
The arena and railyard projects are the least likely to occur anytime soon, unfortunately. The political will just doesn't exist despite public enthusiasm for both.

Additionally, while I am concerned about plans for the removal of the homeless from downtown, I can't help feel a little relieved for the downtown area. There are positives and negatives to concentrating such services. While a concentration lends itself to a network of services that are accessible, the concentration of users paints a negative image on the community where the services are located. After extensively studying marginalized populations in foreign countries, I feel some level of guilt for my moderate entusiasm. My hope is that the city is moving these services to locations that are still accessible for those that are in need. It'd be nice to see one of these facilities placed in the far northeast heights as to create a balance but that's just not the way these things work. To this day they have been tight lipped regarding their plans, though, which is disconcerting.

Lastly, a drive around the urban core of our city presented a sort of carte blanche that I am ecstatic about. In Seattle, I have seen how an existing, dense urban fabric has limited possibilities through well established zoning, design guidelines, and NIMBYism. While those elements exist here as well, we still have many open lots along vital arterials and corridors that lend themselves to an enhanced urban environment that can greatly turn the tide against our auto-centricity. The big question is whether we, as a community, will see to it that smart development occurs. Hopefully 2011 will see a significant step forward in the progression of our built environment to match that of our unmatched and unique natural environment. A safe and happy new year to all.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Race and ethnicity: Albuquerque

This has been discussed around the intarwebs but I thought I would post again because it really provides us with an image of ourselves. From one resolution we're a bicultural metropolitan area, but at the highest resolution you can make out the blue and green dots all over. I have always been proud of our multicultural, integrated community. Now, compare our map with Chicago, or even worse, Portland. Yikes.

Voter Apathy

So far voter apathy has resulted in the death of the streetcar, the arena and convention center hotel, and now there are threats aimed at the RailRunner. Unbelievable. No Susana, this isn't Las Cruces anymore, or a family business. Meanwhile, Mayor Barry is traveling to other cities to see how they approached urban development...ironically, in cities that used large scale public facilities (see: arenas, football stadia, and convention centers) as a part of their plans.

In other news, local property owner, Jim Long, is crying about his hefty, required contributions to the downtown Business Improvement District. As one of the largest property holders it doesn't take much to understand that he's also the largest benefactor of the benefits of a BID. Having a difficult time maintaining clients, Jim? Perhaps you should stop with your horrendous signage and lighting.

Hopefully this worst possible scenario will result in a hefty swing back to the left in 2-4 years. Hopefully. Did they legalize marijane.....?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Poor Pedestrian Environment

I was browsing the blogs and came across an article with a photo that was immediately recognizable. The photo is from a pedestrian's perspective at the corner of Menaul and San Mateo, with bus users awaiting the next bus at the barren bench right next to the arterial. The article, in brief, says a poor pedestrian environment exacerbates poor mobility. It is time for drastic changes in our street design. We cannot afford to be the posterchild for bad urban design. Lead and Coal, although the construction process will be a bit of a headache, will result in a friendlier environment that encourages people to utilize several mobility options given its safer design. Better living through design? Yes please.

Friday, October 15, 2010


After nearly two years in the Pacific Northwest I finally had the opportunity to visit the posterchild of modern American planning: Portland, Oregon. I have one word to sum it up: overrated.

"But how so?" you ask. Let me start by stating that it has a ton going for it. The compactness, the walkability, bikability, and vitality is glaringly apparent the moment you arrive within the center city area. There is a reason it is described as the most European city in the US, particularly with the mish mash of density and transportation options. But in the end, I think it was doomed due to its stratospheric reputation. In Seattle and many cities in this country, the planning community is constantly preaching Portland examples to the point where one begins to place it among the elite cities in the country. And rightly so in terms of planning. But alas, it is a young city of only two and a half million citizens. And while that number is rather large, it ranks 23rd largest in a list of US metropolitan areas. This fact begins to prove itself after a day or two in the city and then you being to ask, "Is that it?"

There are two more significant factors to my overall assessment. First is the fact that there is no major university in the city. Portland State has a growing presence in the southern end of downtown but it's more similar to a CNM-type campus (granted, it's much more attractive and attentive to its context) but you get the idea. This factor subtracts from the city's vitality in a way that provides a sterility to the environment through its older, professional image. Second, there is a blaring lack of diversity that gives the city the feeling of a midwest suburb - ala Boulder, CO. I kid - kind of. One of the various attractions of our cities is the diversity they contain. Portland's diversity exists across the Willamette River in small pockets while its center city has apparently left certain classes(races?) out of its burgeoning urbanity.

However, it's hard for a city to live up to a reputation that has been lauded for years. Where Des Moines has my vote for best midsize city in the country, I would vote for Portland in a "best American city with a population between 1 and 3 million people" in terms of its built environment. The urban design qualities of the city easily match the natural beauty of the surrounding area. If the image of the city is a reflection of its citizen's values, then this city rightly deserves its kudos.
Albuquerque, being in the tier of cities below Portland's, should take note of its successes and failures in an assessment of what it can be. The principles of its urban design, through its network of transportation systems, its accessibility, and its attempts at enhancing the sustainability of its built environment, and thus, its inhabitants. These are the elements that construct the principles of the city that is held to such a high esteem. Take heed, ABQ, and then go out and do better - because you can.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Street Art

I'm not sure if anyone reads this anymore but this event seems like something that should be promoted and supported. I think our city has been more proactive than most American cities in incorporating street art in our built environment. There are several, very interesting events coming up. Check 'em out.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Des Moines: a Model for Albuquerque

Sometimes it's a hard pill to swallow when a city has to look for direction from a smaller, younger peer. While I was in undergrad at nearby Iowa State (go Cyclones!), Des Moines was in the process of conjuring up a plan for downtown revitalization. A decade later, I might argue that the city has one of the nicest downtowns in the country for a midsize city. Greenville comes to mind as a contender but I have no personal proof.

Des Moines came up with a varied approach that included several elements which would improve several key areas in its downtown.
  • A public library (by David Chipperfield) and urban park on the west end.
  • Streetscaping improvements in the east village that connects downtown proper with the Capitol.
  • Streetscaping also along Court Avenue (entertainment district ala Central Ave.)
  • A science center to anchor the southern end of the entertainment district.
  • An arena and convention center to anchor the north end near I-80.
  • A riverfront park.
When all was said and done the city had spend well north of $300 million. In response, private businesses have chipped in approximately $2 billion. That's incredible in a metro area nearing 600,000 people. In all fairness, our fair city was injected by about $85 million in various small projects plus nearly $125 million for the courthouses and federal office building. Private investment has been a little less excited, investing around $100 million in residential developments. That gives a total investment package worth about $310 million, not including nearby investments such as Tingley Beach and the venerable National Hispanic Cultural Center.

So, why such a disparity between the two? Well I'm glad you asked. The Des Moines plan had support from city leadership, the community, and the business community. Downtown Des Moines was already home to several large insurance corporations with thousands of employees. City and business leaders saw this as a means to retain a fraction of the graduates the state was hemorrhaging to nearby Chicago, Minneapolis, and Denver. The businesses recognized that the city needed such urban amenities to attract and retain employees to the region. After a recent visit, I can say that the results are stunning.

This is not to say that there was not a lack of buy in from the various stakeholders here in Albuquerque. The fact that there was already 60,000 employees flooding downtown Des Moines daily was a huge factor. But Albuquerque's business community never really got behind the downtown plan in a way that encouraged businesses to move or expand there, necessarily. Blue Cross Blue Shield, Forest Service, and Fidelity Investments represent over 3,000 employees housed in shiny, new facilities on the periphery which have either expanded or relocated to the metro area ever since downtown revitalization began. Imagine what just one of those companies would have done for office vacancy rates downtown as well as demand for services in an area clinging on to its existing workforce of approximately 20,000.

Additionally, while the location of Des Moines's arena has issues, the $217 million dollar investment had a significant impact on the area. Minor league teams in addition to concerts and tournaments have injected new life into the area by bringing hundreds of thousands of spectators, annually. There was certainly a shift in attitude in the region once the facility was completed and people no longer had to make the drive to a larger city nearby for big-name entertainment. Here's where I would normally go into a long rant in support of our stellar arena plan but I'll refrain this time and, instead, leave you with a few photos from my visit.
One thing that plagues the sidewalk vitality of Des Moines is its skywalk system. Like Minneapolis, most downtown buildings are interconnected by a network of skyways, allowing employees and shoppers to get around downtown without having to be exposed to the harsh summer heat and especially, the bone-chilling, winter cold. Thus, despite having a daytime population of cities two and three times its size, the streets remain downtown Albuquerque-like quiet.

Another issue the city is facing is how to integrate the arena and convention center with the commercial core. The commercial streets, Grand, Walnut, and Court all lie in an east-west direction several blocks away to the south of the arena. Therefore, there is less opportunity for patrons to take in all that downtown has to offer. This connectivity has not been addressed aside from the waterfront park that begins to strengthen downtown connectivity in a north-south direction.

I can't begin to stress how lucky Albuquerque is to already have some of the best weather in the country. This fact alone is reason enough to push our effort toward a more walkable, bikeable city. The RailRunner, Route 66, existing convention center, movie theater, and growing residential market are a wonderful framework from which to improve our downtown. Now we really just need the willpower - and a revised plan.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Park(ing) Day 2010

Friday is the big day! Looks like UNM is once again taking part with a park in Albuquerque this year across from the new planning, architecture, and landscape architecture building along Central. If anyone gets a photo or two, I'd love to see them posted. I am going to try and catch one of these in Portland this year. Cheers!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Arena Politics

Anyone notice how they call Dale Lockett, the president and CEO of the ACVB, a "contractor" in this news piece? When it comes to convention business and marketing, I'll take his expertise over a politician and a preacher any day. Way to go ABQJou...what? KOB? For shame.

As an aside, I actually prefer the plans shown on the kob website over the latest ones. The renderings show a 15,000 seat arena, hotel, retail, residence combination all to the west of the railroad tracks. I like the intensity of this plan as it compliments the developing area behind the Century Theatre development. This plan would allow for some interesting spaces on 1st Street and Copper near the arena. This would also alleviate some of the issues that the Edo 'nabe has with the current plans as it would open up more adjacent land for development that better compliments that neighborhood. The arena-to-neighborhood transition is a tough design issue that I don't feel has been thoroughly addressed in the latest plan. But the plan as shown on kob assumes a resolution to the Big Bytes building fiasco. Perhaps it should be done now that the real estate industry is in a lull.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Albuquerque Film Fest is here. Sounds like a great lineup. Show your support for our local, burgeoning industry...and catch an awesome flick too! link

Food Systems

With regards to sustainability, the transportation of food products globally has such a dramatic affect on energy consumption. It's great to see Albuquerque residents making a dent in this issue at a local and regional level. Local IQ had a fantastic article about our local CSA's. Have a look-see.
The keys to realizing an affective local strategy will be in our ability to preserve agricultural land (i.e. not selling to Wal-Mart), assuring that youth learn the value in local food sources, and that local food reaches the plates of populations in need.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Arena Momentum and a Westside Sith Preacher


The Convention and Visitors Bureau has stepped up and proclaimed it's support of Arena and Hotel plan downtown. Officially. Hopefully this, in addition to the fire at the baptist church will jumpstart this project. Surely the Mayor has had enough time to form an educated opinion. Now would be a good time for the Chamber and Downtown Action Team to get behind this plan.

Centers and Corridors

I found it. The portion of the Comprehensive Plan that discusses the Centers and Corridors concept I've been denouncing for months. Based on research regarding mode travel and activity centers, this is a brilliant plan for our multi-nodal city. However, I would love to see some prioritization of these centers and corridors. Is the design dictated solely by sector plans? Seeing as most neighborhoods haven't updated theirs, I'm guessing this plan is essentially useless with regards to this plans effort. What about transit? This plan discusses the need to strengthen transit options between centers, but does the transit department use this plan as a guide? Based upon the MTP I'm guessing not.

I bring these up for discussion purposes. I am not familiar with the process that has taken shape in Albuquerque over the years as I was an engineer following different codes and regulations. However, the answers to these questions greatly affect the relationship between the city's plans and the quality of the built environment.

I have been working with the City of Seattle to begin the process of creating an urban design element to be included with the comprehensive plan update. This work led me to take a closer look at Albuquerque's plans in order to try and wrap my ahead around the Duke City's urban design policy framework. A short blip in section II, I'll call it an element, discusses urban design. It goes on to list what parts of the built environment that should be evaluated by sector plan(?). But how exactly is this evaluated? Who evaluates this? Again, I'm trying to understand this. I would greatly appreciate it if anyone knows these answers and can enlighten me on these issues.

As part of my work, I have been reviewing work by other cities on this front. The lack of cities with urban design plans really illustrates the state of our cities in terms of design, or lack thereof.

I am aware of a Great Streets Plan that is or was making its way through the EPC last year but I'm unaware of where it stands today. This plan's effectiveness is crucial toward implementation of the centers and corridors concept. Hopefully the plan is not watered down before being approved.

At last week's Design Commission meeting, the mayor of Seattle stated, "Don't let your transportation engineers design your city." I giggled when I thought of the Barry administration responding with, "Oh no? But why?"

Sith Preacher

Meanwhile, the new councilor from west of the river is tinkering with sector plans and transportation taxes. The public process that occurred a few years back to create the Volcano Vista sector plan (that I can't find online now) which called for ample open space and mixed-use development near Volcano Vista High was of no concern to him as he cried property rights for a few folks who feel their rights were violated. Where were these property owners when the plan was being forged? Now the whole community has to pay the price in addition to the lost time and effort of the community. Gosh, why do we even have a planning department, councilor?

Additionally, all the effort of calculating the impact fee structure has meant nothing to him and a few other councilors. This man is single-handedly pissing on months of planning efforts and tax dollars spent to create a solution.

This same councilor has now proposed that excess transit tax revenue be used for road construction. Are you kidding me? Instead of using the money that voters approved for improving transit, we're going to use it on roads? Seriously, this guy has got to go. I wouldn't have a problem with him if he didn't have the support of 4 other councilors that seem to all band together...for their constituents of course...

Thursday, July 01, 2010


The lack of funding for this project might have been a blessing in disguise. Actually, it is a blessing as this will work to slow down the flow of development and investment in the northwest part of the city. As long as we continue to subsidize sprawl development, we don't have any right to complain about a lack of investment in our built up areas. I can think of countless projects that would be better uses of $350 million dollars. However, there was recently news that the city will improve Unser and 98th(?), I believe, into Rio Rancho. This will be interesting to watch new, poorly planned and poorly designed developments grow along these arterials into Rio Rancho, filling the coffers of Rio Rancho and Sandoval Country, which will then be used to support and encourage more crappy development. I'm wondering what the reasoning was at city hall to do this.

Transit Tax
Let's see, we voted to support AND expand our current service, but instead we're going to see that new money used to plug budget gaps? I'll bet we never see that intended money redirected to its intended purpose before Mayor Berry leaves....

Montaño Station Plan
The city was soliciting comments for the station plan awhile back and so I submitted my two cents. I received a response from Tony Sylvestor. What shocks and appalls me is the fact that even after several years of service, there is no real solid plans for TOD within the city, aside from downtown. With full parking lots and limited land area to utilize for expansion the capacity of passenger growth is limited. Rio Metro is in a terrific position to affect real change in land use around the stations but has chosen the cheapest, easiest, least affective approach. Below is my email to MRCOG and Mr Sylvester's responses. He included his name in front of his remarks.

Mr Sylvester

As a forward-thinking "authority" I feel as though the policies and

priorities exhibited by this station area and those preceding

represent what amounts to a baby step in the progression of

Albuquerque's built environment. After briefing through the

presentation and EIS it would appear that the foremost priority

within this plan lies in its ability to accommodate the automobile.

This priority is what has led us to the point we're at. As the

Railrunner is struggling to prove its value in tough economic times,

shouldn't it be a priority to maximize its potential to catalyze new

growth patterns and land use?

TONY - we are really trying to develop a station that balances auto and bus access. The station accommodates up to 8 buses, including those that use the bus bays on Montano. In the immediate future there really aren't plans for many more buses in the area (right now there are only 2). But - the station is designed to potentially evolve into a more "transit" accommodating facility, as well as to accommodate some built structures. One of the reasons to prioritize the auto is that folks in the neighborhood know the overflow conditions at El Pueblo, and the fact that for at least the immediate future, autos play the key role in access. The "we don't want people parking in our neighborhood" concern was one raised at the last public meeting.


The footprint of the land within the proposal is large enough to

accommodate a mix of uses rather than just parking lots. Granted, the

parking lots are wonderfully designed as it's apparent someone has

had lots of practice. But with the station and its location near a

north 4th area planned for mixed-use, it would seem like a priority

would be to extend this mixed-use development to this area. Why not

build into the system a new population of users? I hate using other

cities as an example because people often become defensive and say

their city is so different. BUT, Seattle did a wonderful job creating

new urban villages at their stations, thus building automatic system

users. I'm not suggesting this model is a direct correlation as the

commuter rail is different from light-rail but it still provides

valuable lessons for station area planning. The RailRunner model is

built on a continued need for expanded parking lots (ie. Journal

Center) and nothing else. We're several years into this service and

TOD only exists in downtown ABQ and SF and it's limited at best.

TONY - We are working with the City to evaluate mixed use opportunities in the area, and to develop a framework plan to move ahead. While we see this as a vision of the future, auto access is key in the short term. We know that if someone drives to the station, cant find a parking place and misses their train, we will lose a transit rider. We have planned buses along Montaño to serve the station, but at this point there are few people residing in walking distance, and very limited bus access.


The paving over of our desert environment is leading to the

degradation of our region including that of contaminated water

runoff. I'm sure it was looked at but surely more could be done to

maximize onsite stormwater treatment. For 60 years we've piped

everything into our gutters. The result is larger and larger storm

events due to increased runoffs. Then we get things like giant holes

in the ground along our major gateways. (see Lomas & Broadway)

TONY - The landscaped areas running east and west will capture and retain water. While some stormwater will go into the storm drain, we are retaining as much as possible on site.

I'm assuming the Rapid Ride will be integrated with this stop. It

wasn't clear from what I briefed over.

TONY - Rapid Ride does not serve this area. The Transit District plans call for east bound and west bound Montaño buses from the station.

Lastly, the 2025 estimate for travel time from downtown ABQ to

downtown Santa Fe is 115 minutes? Right now it's close to 60minutes.

Using this figure to gauge the "efficiency" of the RailRunner system

is a poor litmus test that doesn't meet reality. This number does

little to help make the RailRunner competitive currently. Again, more

could be done.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Quality of Life = Jobs

Another article which equates quality of life with talent recruitment. We have better weather, we sure as hell have more culture, a university (granted, it needs a little tweaking but it's coming along), and talent. We just need that SOMETHING which keeps them here....

Monday, May 10, 2010

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Learning the Hard Way: Boston-Style

Another case of when you build it, they don't always come. This would have been the same fate as the park Mayor Marty proposed at 3rd and Roma. The addition of green space is not enough to attract the masses. Dallas is in the middle of constructing something similar that is being lauded by designers (Calthorpe even has a hand in this one if I'm not mistaken). Sadly, it'll be nothing more than a pretty green space best viewed and experienced from the surrounding highrises.

Edit: Calthorpe & Associates was the master planner for the arts district, the Office of James Burnett completed the actual park design. Regardless, it's money wasted by the city of Dallas as the best thing about these projects are the big names behind them. Even the district will sit empty unless they fill the surrounding areas with lots of residential. And even then, the clientele Dallas will likely attract will add little in the way of vitality to the streets and parks. The park plan in all its myopic glory:

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Urban Design: Take 2 - UNM Court of Appeals

I admit, I veered off topic last time. This time I'll keep it short and sweet. Urban Design: our local architects need to return to school for some "innovative" courses that have been taught for nearly 40 years now. A news story about some dumb-ass kids breaking into the UNM Court of Appeals gave me new ammunition to accuse the university of terrible planning and archaic architectural sensibilities masked in our regional vernacular.
NCA Architects (Planners?) proclaim to provide clients with innovative and economical design solutions...you know, the typical bs we've all come to expect from the profession and construction industry in general. But what's been provided is a monolithic, brown design that is more reminiscent of modern prisons. This location happens to be located in a very nice north campus neighborhood in a rapidly growing part of the university. Beautifully lining the building is a linear, double-loaded parking lot, complete with minimal sidewalk space and a lack of street trees for the crazy person that wants to enjoy this area by foot. Transparency facing the street is a plentiful 20 percent (I'm being generous). Who wouldn't want to walk through this part of campus on a lovely summer evening to appreciate the quiet, wonderfully appointed area? Surely the artîst behind this design included some energy efficient LED lighting to enhance the sense of arrival to his ode-to-Predock during the dark hours. Wow, UNM, what a beautiful campus you have.
I usually save this for DPS projects but the news exposure allowed another firm to present their ground-breaking work.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Urban Design and Our Institutions

I've been pondering the reasons behind our city's lack of strong urban design, or urban design in general, and have come to the conclusion that neither the public sector nor private have taken the lead and, therefore, nothing has happened. Professionals have worked to create what hints of urban design have come to fruition in the Nob Hill area but that is all that exists in our region. There are other examples but none as notable and significant thus far. (I know professionals will grumble at that comment)

It has driven me mad to think that cities like Omaha, Des Moines, and Oklahoma City have seen wonderous progress in the design of their urban areas over the last 5 to 10 years. OKC has MAPS as a guiding plan. Omaha has Omaha by Design, complete with a Design Commission which is part of design review for public projects. And Des Moines...well, I'm not sure what they have besides tons of money flowing in from the insurance companies whom base their headquarters there. Their leaders have done a wonderful job in leading that city's revitalization. The community responded by building an new arena, convention center, and investing in other infrastructure in the area.

These cities, led by powerful CEO's, have come to understand the value in creating vital urban districts within their cities. College graduates no longer want the "American Dream" that our parents aspired to with a large home in the quiet suburbs complete with pickets fence, 2-car garage, and a giant lawn. We want lively cities. We no longer feel the need and pressure to settle down and make babies until we're in our 30s - at least. Until that happens, we're happy to work shitty hours at relatively modest pay scales. It's the reason tolerate the pollution, noise, and expense of living in large, dense cities.

Meanwhile, companies feel the pressure when searching for talented, young workers. Medium-sized cities need to compete with the likes of the first and second tier cities to attract those workers. But this issue isn't new. We've known this to be an issue for quite sometime. Sandia Labs had a hand in our initial revitalization efforts which began in 1998. But after an initial effort, it's been slow-going. Over the last decade, other cities have managed to retool, reinvigorate, and most importantly, sustain the redevelopment of their urban areas. Sometimes it was the private institutions which led the effort while other times it was the municipal government. Typically, it begins with one but trends toward collaborated effort.

An article in the Harvard Design Review recently published an article which touches on this subject. This leads me to believe that our failure to redevelop has been a lack of effort from both the private and public sides. Companies have moved their offices to Uptown and North-I25: think Blue Cross, First Community Bank, Forest Service, etc. The City of Albuquerque has done very little in the way of investment in downtown in over a decade aside from the giant hole in the ground at Broadway and Lomas. UNM and CNM obviously don't understand the correlation between their campuses, their students, and the city's redevelopment potential.
As a young professional who has relocated from Albuquerque, I have witnessed many friends whom have come and gone as a result of the city not doing anything for young professionals. The continued suburbanization of our city has had unintended consequences. This process really accelerated with the Paseo and Montaño bridge improvements in the 90s. Martin Chavez had a vision for our city that had arguably positive results on our community based almost solely on growth. However, some policies created the situation we're in today.

Mayor Barry has given me an inkling of hope in his, apparently, pragmatic approach to leading our city. He says he is "studying" the arena. He supports our improved transit system from what I have seen. However, I'm not yet sure he understands the consequences of our built environment with relation to the recruitment and retainment of talented professionals. Now, I am not suggesting an all-out strategy based on Richard Florida's writings. I just think we need some strategy, a focus, a goal, for some eventuality based on the realities of globalization and environmental change. We also need a leader to emerge and lead the way. Until then, developers such as SunCal and Forest City will continue to dictate our growth and development. Our motto at this time seems to be "cheap land and tax incentives!" We're being sold out because we have too much to offer to play this low-bid game.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Commuting Modeshare

A brilliant graphic from the Infrastructurist. Unfortunately, me thinks our beautiful Duke City would resemble Houston. However, Rapid Ride, the RailRunner, and a stronger bicycling/pathway infrastructure are helping us to improve our repertoire. Now if we could just get our land use in order...

Also, the Journal had a wonderful opinion piece from Chris Blewitt about the importance of the RailRunner in which he eloquently justified its existence and viability in our sprawlburg.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


As a soon-to-be graduating student I am left to ponder the ultimate question these days: "What's next?" This question is slowly growing increasingly burdensome as the big day approaches.

Anyone who regularly reads this blog knows that I ultimately want to end up in the Duke City. Family, friends, the weather, the geography. It really is a nice mix of everything. After living in the midwest, the northeast, the pacific northwest, and the southwest, I'd vote for Albuquerque in a best all-season city contest.

The latest census data shows our growth trajectory increasing more and more rapidly, presenting many new opportunities for our community. The big 1 million is just around the corner. However, such growth presents giant challenges to our arid, diverse, changing environment.

In the past 16 months I have had a taste of planning in China, Scandinavia, the Pacific Northwest, and now Buenos Aires, Argentina. Hazard mitigation and cultural preservation, forward-thinking carbon sensitive development and multi-modal transit, urban growth boundaries, mass transit and escalating gentrification, and now informal settlements amid increasing economic pressures. Now I get to figure out where I can apply my knowledge and balance it with a decent salary and self fulfillment.

I often ponder what I would do if I moved to Albuquerque and all I can think of is the wondrous ways I would change it. Less car lanes, wider sidewalks, increased bus service, streetcars, (light-rail?), tax-incentivized urban zones (that whole "centers and corridors" concept the city just mentions in documents on shelves in offices), green networks throughout the city, an overhauled planning department that actually communicates with the other departments, a mayor that understands a city's role in a contemporary context, just to name a few. Oh, and street trees. How are people expected to walk to a bus stop in the summer without shade amid 1-story buildings set back from the street?

But then I remember that Albuquerque is what it is because the citizens have voted for this. It did not happen by accident. Why should I impose my beliefs on a population which to date does not support such objectives? It's becoming quite apparent that despite what other cities have learned (Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta, Nashville, Austin, shall I continue?), Albuquerque still needs to go through the growing pains before realizing that a multi-dimensional approach to city planning is necessary. All the while, places like Portland, Seattle, New York, San Francisco, Austin, Denver and the like have taken a lead role in repositioning their cities to be competitive, efficient, livable places. Even cities like Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Omaha, and Salt Lake City have caught on. Not that Albuquerque isn't livable but you get what i am saying, I think. Alas, I have at least 5 more months to decide and this thesis to complete. No pressure.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I-40 Bike/Ped Bridge!

BikeABQ member, Carl, captured this image of the bridge under construction. I am wonderfully pleased to see that the design for this bridge embraces structure as an art and really adds a bit of style to the project, as opposed to the typically boring style of bridges that cross the Rio Grande. This project makes me shake with excitement a little.

Due to my blatant "borrowing" of this photo, I'm going to plug BikeABQ again and commend them for the fantastic work they have done advocating multimodal transportation and bike safety in the Duke City. Kudos! If you haven't been to their website in a while, perhaps it's time you did. They've added a youtube site with "share the road" videos. Have a look-see.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tuscon Streetcar

If only our leaders would realize the opportunities. Tucson just received stimulus funding for 42% of the project's total cost. article. This is on top of the previous $25 million they received from the feds in 2008.

Oh, and did I mention that the University of Arizona is constructing residential halls with over a thousand beds in downtown Tucson?

While they've been studying our downtown and taking strategic action toward improving theirs, we've been resting on our laurels waiting for the market to fix things for us. Apparently.

Great Streets

Last summer's seminar in Copenhagen and Malmo was the first half of a studio course which is currently wrapping up. As part of this course, we visited with Gehl Architects of Copenhagen to learn their techniques for public space design. Gehl Architects is currently involved in the development of Seattle's Pedestrian Master Plan as well as an area plan for a light-rail station in a southern portion of the city. Our studio is currently using the Gehl methodologies to develop and evaluate site designs for that station plan. Their methods for public space has had significant influence on the revitalization and pedestrian improvements in cities such as Melbourne, New York, San Francisco, and Copenhagen.

Two significant concepts have struck me as simple yet vital to urban space. One is the idea that right-of-way space is typically given over to the automobile in overly generous proportions. Our roadways are often designed to handle traffic capacities which only exist for a total of two hours a day - rush hour. Taking this into consideration, this concept has led to the redevelopment of places like Time's Square which has reallocated space according to use.

The other concept is consideration for human scale development that is attractive to people while walking. This includes many similar ideas as those presented in many design guidelines which neighborhoods use to shape new development. However, those guidelines often fall short when considering the five sense employed by a human when evaluating a place.

This, naturally, led me to evaluate the street design approach in my beloved Albuquerque. I can think of only one area in the entire metro area where street design appears to be well thought out by someone other than a traffic engineer and that is in Nob Hill. From the new lamp posts to the well-manicured medians, there is attention to detail that provides a sense of place which enhances the urban experience.

Taking this a step further, imagine the effects this type of approach to street design would have on activity centers throughout the city if carried over to places such as the University area, Lomas through downtown, north 4th, etc. Perhaps a reallocation of space is in order along Central which might enlarge sidewalks and squeeze down traffic lanes to 10-feet. Imagine what it would be like to walk along Central on a comfortably wide sidewalk with traffic moving a little slower on the other side of parked vehicles. Now imagine this same sense of place in other areas of the city.

The Great Streets plan that is working its way through the red tape attempts to bring some of these changes to designated activity centers. However, the current council's attitude toward such development is lukewarm at best. Some of the wording in the new documentation waters it down to be largely ineffective. Furthermore, the plan doesn't even designate locations for implementation. With this ommitance, coupled with the Centers and Corridors lack of defining said centers, it is highly likely that these plans will collect dust on a shelf. Locating a pilot project will be vital to the plans livelihood as it would provide the city a palpable example from which to learn whether or not it is right for the community. Nob Hills existence as an anomaly gives such concepts little legitimacy in a city run by conservative leaders. It is time that people begin to understand how their quality of life is affected by the continued allowance of urban street design to be left to traffic engineers whom design straight out of a handbook written at time when the car was the panacea to an urban utopia never realized.

The future is urban and we have the tools to create improved conditions for our cities. But this means we also need to be more proactive when it comes to informing our representatives whom have the ability to turn this ship.

Albuquerque's geography and weather lend to the city's ability to become a truly comfortable place for citizens utilizing all forms of mobility. But we need to taylor our built environment to allow for such diversified uses rather than our singular, current approach.

In the meantime, I'll imagine an Albuquerque with urban villages similar to Nob Hill but with wider sidewalks, more rain gardens, bikes lanes and slower traffic, throughout the city.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Prototypical Des Moines

As a graduate of an Iowa institution, I'm proud to see the city of Des Moines taking a leadership role in building a dense, sustainable city center that promotes a mix of uses and quality of life matched only by cities of a significantly larger scale. Albuquerque should take note...

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

HSR - Visual Update

This map illustrates stimulus fund implications. Now let's see if our local leaders can appropriately prepare. Perhaps a master plan for the ATC is in order? (and Zenu help me if you know who gets that contract as well....)

Quote of the Day

"The space between buildings is architecture, and how one deals with that space between buildings is an architectural problem. I don't accept that architecture and urbanism are separate." - Peter Eisenman

Can we send this in memo format to those involved in the profession working in Albuquerque?

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Looks like we'll be getting a few extra bucks (it's a pdf) to further the study.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

UNM and City: Take Note

photo courtesy of Jill Torrance, Arizona Daily Star

The University of Arizona is moving their architecture and urban design studio to downtown, according to this article. Imagine the possibilities if UNM got its s*%t together and worked with the city instead of continuing to build new car-centric facilities in the north campus area (hello Law School!). I know it isn't a done deal for the UofA as of yet, but this is a nationwide trend. Cities and universities are quickly understanding the power they have over redevelopment trends in urban areas. It's one thing to build secondary schools but it's another to have professional schools that contribute significant populations of adults enlivening an area over large parts of the day. Do you think Mayor Barry and Schmidly will ever have these discussions? I won't hold my breath.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Density Can Be Beautiful

This was a presentation from a planner in Redwood City, CA providing examples of a range of residential development densities. These are important lessons to keep in mind as urban Albuquerque morphs into a denser existence. Hopefully a leader will arise to create a plan for our neighborhoods to determine which models best compliment the existing urban environment while progressively and carefully densifying areas in an effort to create the vitality that is desired in such settings.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

2009 Review

I apologize for the long pause between postings. Spring quarter has begun and life is a blur once again. The break did, however, grant me the opportunity to swing through the wonderful Duke City for a week of rest, rehab, green chile, farolitos, familia, and old friends.
Although 2010 has begun in the midst of an economic recession, there are some bright spots to provide hope. I was pleased to see significant progress with the various residential projects throughout downtown. Here's a few photos that I captured along the way:

700 2nd @ Lomas - A real model for future urban development and affordable housing in Albuquerque.
Silver Gardens - Continued downtown residential at good densities (albeit generic in design). Site work also appears to be starting across the street in the foreground. I wonder when phase two of Silver Gardens will be begin to enclose the block.
The downtown core with the renovated Hotel Andaluz. This project is not residential but puts another 100+ sets of feet on the street in the area on a regular basis.
Urban residential and quality, inclusive street design in Nob Hill
I left out a photo of Elements Townhomes as they were in the process of being stuccoed but they're a fantastic addition to an increasing selection of options enriching our urban fabric. I question the pricing set by the developer, Sean Gilligan, seeing as he's yet to sell 720 Roma's 9 units at much more reasonable prices.
I still question Jonathon Rose's decision to eliminate retail space from the ground level of Silver Gardens. The residents near the 1st and Silver intersection will feel the impacts of the Rapid Ride and Greyhound busses driving right by their window. I still believe this was a significant lost opportunity that was made more as a result of current economic conditions and a lack of long-term consideration.
Additionally, the start of construction on the Hotel Parq Central building in Edo will be another fantastic addition to the area. Hopefully the project will anchor the east end of Edo and create more energy for the area.
But still, 2010 will see the infusion of hundreds of new residents to the downtown core. As residential drives retail, prospects are favorable for a rapid turnaround once the economy begins to recover. In the meantime, it is exciting to see progress made toward the revitalization of our core. Be sure to check out the Downtown Action Team's redesigned website as well.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Inspiration in Trying Times

Despite California's economic issues, the city of San Francisco is pushing forward with what will be America's best multimodal transit center. EVAR. article