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 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.