I am going to take a little bit of time out from here in New Mexico to share an interview I did yesterday with a local reporter in Albuquerque. I'm doing a series of Curbside Chats -- well attended events with great feedback -- and was able to spend a little bit of time with Sidsel Overgaard, a reporter with KUNM (who, like me, has two daughters). She had some great questions and we were able to walk along and look at the landscape here in downtown, taking in what is working as well as what is not.
Unfortunately, there is a lot in that latter category. I really do like it here -- the people have been great and I see a ton of potential to make things work well -- but they are afflicted with a lot of places that just don't function. For example, between the city hall and the convention center is this public plaza. In theory this is the perfect place for a plaza. In practice, the design is just dead and lifeless.
We walked down an adjacent street that was, in theory, a pedestrian mall. While the planners and urban designers had done a fair job with the public space, the adjacent buildings were completely out of scale and have this imposing, despotic feel. The result, again, was a space devoid of life.
But then we got to the end of all of this highly-planned space and -- WOW -- there was some great street life. It just popped out and you could see how they were thriving, even though the street design there was not the best. It was almost as if, where the planners were absent, things worked.
All this reinforced to me just how far we have to go in the professional realm to get back to building places of value. Engineers, planners and architects have to unlearn decades of bad practices, and quickly.
Albuquerque gives me hope, however. Yes, they have their nasty STROADS and the wasteland on the edge that every major city has, but they have some quality places as well. I have never been here before and I was worried that it would be another Phoenix or Las Vegas, southwestern cities that -- at least with my skill set and vision -- seem nearly unsalvagable. That is definitely not the case here. There is a lot that is working and even more that could.
One of the big debates I walked into has to do with the construction of an interchange outside of town. It is the typical deal: spend hundreds of millions on one project to fight congestion, creates job and induce growth. And like all similar investments, there is no real return on the money spent. I offered that, if they were going to spend millions, I would recommend taking a tiny fraction of that (which is all it would take), bring in someone like Ethan Kent from Project for Public Spaces, and have him help the city reactivate that city hall plaza and the adjoining blocks. If they spent a million on that it would return many multiples of that to the city's coffers, far more than the proposed interchange project.
So this is all a very long introduction for this audio interview with Sidsel. It is posted in an edited format (3 minutes) on the station's main site and then in an unedited (22 minutes) format on her blog site.