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.