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Home / Articles / News / Opinion /  Zane's World
Hill Town
Design standards for the NWQ take cues from Santa Fe’s older neighborhoods, alternative energy and conservation technologies, as well as European and Mexican hill towns.

Zane's World

Caged Community

June 16, 2009, 12:00 am

Santa Fe City Councilor Patti Bushee is running for mayor.

Either that or she’s fortifying her legacy. Her handling of the Northwest Quadrant is indication enough of either. At a Monday, June 8 Public Works Department meeting, the councilor dramatically promised to introduce a doomed ordinance proclaiming the NWQ to be open space—and nothing but open space—forevermore. It’s a token move aimed at killing approval of a master plan to develop a small portion of the city-owned property into a progressive, mixed-use affordable and workforce housing effort.

Other dramatic and candidacy-clueing cues on Bushee’s part during the meeting included storming from her chair to physically smash to the floor a board demonstrating said master plan (seriously) and forcing staff to produce a remnant of the oft-disregarded-when-convenient “general plan” for city development. Bushee wanted to codify the notion of closing the Casa Solana neighborhood to undesirable traffic from Las Campanas, La Tierra, the proposed NWQ development and anything else that might wad up the panties of Bushee’s more vocal voter base.

Then she begged off in the name of an important meeting. How was that “important” Laurie Anderson concert, Councilor? It’s a small town, so it’s hard to get away with such things, right? No slight to Bushee’s taste—I’d have skipped out on Public Works for Anderson as well—but the point is that Santa Fe is a small town with tremendous potential and that potential should never be sacrificed for petty politics.

Not for petty bigotries, either.

When the city’s Housing & Community Development Department presented a plan for developing the NWQ that indeed protected Casa Solana from undesirable traffic, opponents were caught off guard and quickly shifted their concerns to the proximity of affordable housing. “Concern” about affordable housing is, of course, code for fear that desperate, thieving meth-heads are about to become government-sponsored neighbors. Worse, they might not be white. But hey, I’m sure some of every American’s best friends are at this point, shall we say, economically inconvenienced, if not melanin-advantaged.

Hopefully we can expect the wisdom of the council as a whole to look past at least those tropes of NIMBYism.

Besides, the plan for the NWQ calls for nearly equal amounts of affordable, workforce and market-rate housing. In other words, at the end of the day, it’s destined to be a peaceful working-class neighborhood, not unlike Casa Solana itself in demographic terms.

Assuming opponents of NWQ development can learn not to fear the poor, their next greatest fear is that the current proposal to keep traffic out of their neighborhood will be a temporary measure, destined to fail in 10 to 15 years. They might be right, but such an outcome, too, is nothing to fear.

The current plan—against the advice of the Fire Department, which favors full connectivity—is to have two “opticon” gates between the development and the road that leads into Casa Solana. The gates will open for emergency vehicles equipped with the appropriate beacons and—maybe, if no one is too uptight about it—for school buses or public transit.

If opticon gates sound like something out of a bad sci-fi story, that’s because they are. You’ve heard of gated communities? The new NWQ neighborhood would be a caged community, its inhabitants unable to drive into the adjacent neighborhood because of irrational fears, while the rest of the city is welcome to its trails and bicycle paths. I say irrational fears because the traffic impact analysis for NWQ development shows that 20 years from now, traffic levels would be similar to current levels on E. Palace Avenue or Camino del Monte Sol or Camino Cruz Blanca—real thoroughfares, those. That’s leaving aside the likelihood that transportation as we know it is likely to be fundamentally different in 20 years.

But these red herrings aren’t what should be on the minds of city councilors when they consider the NWQ at the Thursday, June 18 Planning Commission meeting or the full council meeting the following week.

Just as we at The Santa Fe Reporter, in looking back through 35 years of Santa Fe’s history and our own, cannot help but look toward the next 35 years, the city’s elected representatives have an obligation to consider the future, especially through the lens that comes with recent hindsight.

Having followed the public input process into the master plan for the NWQ, I can say it’s something exceptional. It’s not a new-urbanist fantasy or a Centex cookie-cutter wasteland. It’s a people’s plan—ingrained with a sense of sustainability, social justice and community—and it builds on the lessons of Tierra Contenta and the very best Santa Fe has to offer.

If the plan, and its cautious and responsible long-term, multi-phase implementation go forward, we’ll have another cherished neighborhood in Santa Fe by the time anyone gets around to looking at whether the traffic studies were right, and we’ll laugh at how stupid the opticon gates were.

Or, as usual, we could sacrifice vision for political infighting.

 

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