The Albuquerque City Council met recently as a "Committee of the Whole," at the request of the University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning, which engaged the UNM community. The purpose of the special meeting, Albuquerque 20/20: Design + Planning for Quality of Life + Economic Development, was to discuss how planning and design can help enhance quality of life for residents, while addressing the city's goals for economic development and urban growth. The meeting was set to precede the City Council's meeting to decide upon redistricting and budget approval.

City councilors who attended were Brad Winter, District 4; Debbie O'Malley, District 2; Isaac Benton, District 3; Rey Garduño, District 6; Ken Sanchez, District 1; Dan Lewis, District 5; and Don Harris, District 9.

CITY DESIGN AND PLANNING
Benton said that he met previously with Geraldine Forbes Isais, dean, School of Architecture and Planning. "We met to discuss was to engage the city and the School of Architecture and Planning to address issues of mutual concern, and the relationship between the university and the city," he said.

Forbes Isais introduced the first agenda item, city design and planning. "The city leaders and the school share an interest in the future of the City of Albuquerque, its growth and quality of life," she said.

She noted the many programs at the school that touch on the topic – architecture, landscape architecture, community and regional planning, as well as historic preservation and regionalism, urban and regional design and the school's new Indigenous Design +Planning Institute (iDPi).

"The built environment impacts quality of life and it can be enhanced through planning, locally and globally," she said.

Regarding a "brand," Forbes Isais said, "Knowing who and what you are is cultivated over time. Albuquerque has a sense of identity, deep roots, culture – we see it in the people, mountains, river and architecture. Through our courses we teach growth, planning, economic development, justice for citizens and the environment. We have an interest in negotiating the future without losing a sense of who we are."

Katya Crawford, assistant professor in landscape architecture, said, "Albuquerque is our laboratory. Our students and faculty are committed to the missing pieces – the holes in the urban fabric – such as vacant lots that stand out like missing teeth. We want to forge a relationship with the city to share our design ideas that can be tested. We want to be known as the creative force we are."

Councilor O'Malley talked about a city's previous branding initiative. "The former mayor got recognition for Albuquerque. It was a way to promote business growth that can pay for infrastructure," she said.

Councilors, faculty and attendees talked about the various parts of the city, their special identities and needs.

Albuquerque is State's Urban Center
Councilor Benton, who represents the downtown area, said, "The core of the city cannot be sacrificed for the short-sighted development of sprawl. The city, with other partners must make sure that doesn't happen." He added, "Albuquerque is the urban center of the state. It's the big dog, the power house of the state. It must have a unique sense of place, different than Santa Fe or Las Cruces. It should be the dynamic center of the state."

Councilor Benton said that Albuquerque should be "the dynamic center of the state." "It is the top economic generator of the state. Its sense of place should be brought forward better," he said. That sense of place is seen in Route 66, downtown and Nob Hill, for example.

Westside
Councilor Sanchez, who represents the westside, said that his district is the city's "final frontier." A lifelong resident, Sanchez recalled the shift in focus across the city through the years. "Downtown was the happening place. Then there was a shift to uptown and the heights, then toward Winrock. It had a negative impact on our city's downtown core," he said.

Councilor Sanchez noted that he and Councilor Benton are working together to engage in some Route 66 planning out to 98th Street that includes a new fire station and a library. As in other parts of the city, westside residents wanted a new community, close to schools and parks. He said, "The divide between the east and west sides of the river is because of the time it takes to traverse it."

Councilor Lewis, also a westside representative, talked about the sector plan that allowed for the development of Volcano Heights, that borders, but does not impact, Petroglyph National Monument. "The plan was justice for citizens and the environment. Landowners and city planning were able to guide development of new homes above the escarpment. It is sprawl right now, but all were at one time," he said.

Growth and Water
Councilor Garduño counters the notion that growth is inevitable. "We must tie land use to water. We haven't looked at watershed. We invaded a watershed – St. Augustine. We have to learn from what happens elsewhere. Los Angeles grew from water stolen from the Colorado River." He added that the city has no storm water ordinance. "Why don't we have it? No enforcement ability," he said.

Albuquerque Needs Vibrant Urban Center
Councilor Benton said that Albuquerque's branding could be as a sustainable southwest arid city. "We are in competition with cool places. We need to attract progressive, forward-looking businesses who want an educated workforce. Those that are looking for a unique place to move, a unique urban environment," he said. He added that young people want a "vibrant urban character" and a "great sense of place." "We have great open space – parks, river, foothills – the cool outdoor lifestyle young people are looking for."

"That's why we're here. It's about attracting large national business to grow our economy. Plus, we want to develop small, local entrepreneurship," he said.

Councilor Benton said, "We are the vibrant urban center for New Mexico. Downtown is for Albuquerque."

Councilor O'Malley said that managing growth has had setbacks. "The construction industry fights back." She noted that Albuquerque lost control of water to the Water Authority. Despite extraterritorial zoning and imposing regulations, she said, "Nothing will happen about water until it doesn't come out of the tap."

Councilor O'Malley's district is eclectic. "It includes urban areas downtown, the museums, the acequias and the North Valley." About the emphasis on downtown, she said, "The urban core isn't there. It isn't there in many places. Identity of the city is made up of all areas. We need to enrich neighborhoods for their unique identities. Identity is both micro and a macro. Downtown is just a small part," she said.

Councilor Benton said, "No modern, successful city is without a strong downtown. A vibrant urban center is critical. There is a generation we want to keep here, like the UNM grads. We will lose them if we do not develop our sense of place. People want walkable urbanism. They want to walk, hang out in an urban environment."

GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT
Claudia Isaac, professor, community and regional planning, introduced the second topic, growth and development. She said that economic development is "the outcome of policies that enhance the quality of life and standard of living for a city's population. Successful economic development alleviates poverty, increases access to goods and services, and ensures that stable and high wage jobs are available to the widest possible population."

Capital ideas
Isaac talked about human capital, "the skills, training, health and creative capacity of city residents;" natural capital, "enhances the sustainability, cleanliness and efficient use of local resources;" physical capital, "the built environment, which in a vibrant economy closes gaps between provision and demand for infrastructure, housing, commercial and manufacturing space and transit." Social capital, she said, is often ignored in economic analysis. It is characterized by "the networks and relationships that ‘bond' communities together internally and ‘bridge' communities to each other."

Isaac said, "A community with robust social capital has high levels of civic engagement, with broad based, and participatory community based organizations that collaborate effectively with government and the private sector."

She pointed to participatory budgeting as a municipal management tool, which she described as, "a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spent part of a public budget." She encouraged the council to build on participatory practices.

Good design and economic development
Architecture Professor Mark Childs said that good design is strong and enduring economic development. "It is critical to the quality of life and sense of pride in one's city. This is deeply true for the public parts of a city – the streets, public buildings, parks and even the power substations and cell towers. You are the clients and set the standards for these public places," he said.

Childs noted that there is "growing evidence that creative individuals and businesses move towards vibrant places, and those great places are the crucible for creative work."

He said that great cities share principles that include learning from, but not copying other places, celebrating multiple eras of historic buildings, being actively engaged in creating new riffs, new styles that are rooted in their place; and having rich pedestrian realms – great streets, plazas and parks.

Growth with Quality for All
Councilor Garduño said that growth must be within. "Growth has to consider quality for all of us who are here. We are all in it together. No one prefers to be poor, oppressed or at the bottom of the heap. Social capital is important. We can't grow only the one percent," he said.

Councilor Sanchez said that each council district gets $1 million annually to invest in growth. He said that it doesn't go far and that GO Bond revenues are going from $164 million down to $110 million. He said that drop requires creativity in attracting money.

He said, "Bonding was for 10 years, now 13, and it may extend to 15 years. If it doesn't, we can't do things for our community. There's a challenge and a risk. Do you want Albuquerque to grow?"

Local architect Garrett Smith asked the council members, "How do you see the city's approach to development for the long term?" He questioned the value of regulations, sector plans, model homes and prescriptive city design. "This room is full of people who can design good architecture. Let them do it! Get rid of traffic engineering. Look at great cities. To be successful we have to get rid of some rules and regulations and do what's best."

Andy Gingrich, a master's student in community and regional planning, addressed the need to design healthy communities with all citizens in mind. "In the country, 70 percent have driver's licenses. That means 30 percent do not. That includes kids, elderly and the disabled. It's a justice issue." He noted that six-lane streets pose a crossing impediment to pedestrians. "A public right of way must serve all the public," he said.

Local architect Rob Dickson said that UNM and Albuquerque should be branded together like the University of Texas and Austin. "They should share assets, and collaborate on individual interrelated brands. He said that vibrant downtowns require a substantial residential base. "Public policy may have to prime the pump. It must maximize existing public asset investments, particularly by retrofitting with infill. It's where every city is going," he said. Finally, he said that two commissions, the Environmental Planning Commission and the Albuquerque Development Commission could be doing a lot more. The EPC, by ordinance, is under directive to provide creative ideas. Dickson suggested the Albuquerque Development Commission look at the Portland's development plan because it maximizes infill.

Dickson concluded, "There are ways to be better and still be us."

Albuquerque's Improvements and Needs
UNM retiree Nick Estes noted Albuquerque's improvements. "Albuquerque is better than it was in the 50s and 60s. There are more interesting things to do here. The pollution has gotten better. We have established urban boundaries and protected open space. Forget branding. However, we're still living with urban baggage of the 50s and 60s. Like San Mateo – no parks, landscaping or consistent signage," he said.

Councilor O'Malley noted that the North Valley Overlay Zone encourages cluster development and permeable surfaces. "We're looking to conserve water, get away from hard surfaces and return to its organic growth.

TOWN GOWN RELATIONSHIP
Finally, the group explored the town and gown relationship. Architecture professor Michaele Pride said that as the state's flagship university, UNM has an "explicit responsibility to serve the state and an implied responsibility to the city.

"UNM people reside in Albuquerque. We depend on the city. Albuquerque is the laboratory for the school. Through collaboration, we can enrich the lesson learned and together develop strategies to address growth, economic develop, and share design and planning best practices."

Alf Simon, associate dean and director of the landscape architecture program, said that UNM and the city have mutual interests including smart urban growth policies to combat sprawl. He said, "Infrastructure is critical to how we live, our quality of life and a way to our goal of sustainable living. We've learned a lot since that infrastructure was put in."

The university and the city share a goal to develop strong, healthy communities with parks, open space, squares, streets and public transportation. He said that well planned communities with well-designed and thought out amenities are a "catalyst to sustainability." Public health, safety and economic development are connected through good design, he said.

Moving Forward Together
Dean Forbes Isais said that she would like to formalize the school's investment in the city. "We would like to work with city leadership to create an interdisciplinary Albuquerque City Lab. With the leadership, we would identify an area as a research and creative focus for the semester as a token of our appreciation for your time. Please communicate this to the mayor. We are a great city, but we can be better."

Councilor Winter said that they should try to meet with the board of Regents.

Assistant Professor Kristina Yu said, "Our students are spatial pioneers. Incentivize students with housing to keep graduates here and get them to look at improving areas."

Dean Forbes Isais said that the creative economy of the city is important. She said that the downturn in the economy, which adversely affects the building and trades industry and therefore architects, has given design professionals the realization that they need to be involved in materials research.

"We are just waking up to that dimension of who we are. Previously we allowed product people to do R&D.; Now universities are doing more of that," she said.

"Despite the 30 percent decrease in the construction industry in the last five years, in taxable gross receipts, construction remains in second place behind retail," she said. Forbes Isais said that the construction industry figures don't come just from housing on the westside. "It's from other things like carpentry, furniture, ductwork, lighting, stucco and infrastructure," she said.

"The School of Architecture and Planning is dedicated to a quality built environment at the same time we are dedicated to economic development. Decisions about designing include supporting the natural environment. We must take into consideration the people, plants and animals that will depend upon the environment in the future. That is the baseline for design decisions," she said.

Capital outlay can't jumpstart the economy without jumpstarting the construction industry, she said. "Now that it's dormant, we have an opportunity to do it right. Equally, the town and gown relationship is possible because the stall in the economy allows for it," she said.

See a slideshow.

Media Contact: Carolyn Gonzales (505) 277-5920; email: cgonzal@unm.edu