Reflecting Emerging Values in the Built Environment

“Non-partisan public works projects…begin the physical transformation required to attract future residents and jobs, but also catalyze a cultural shift in thinking about what kinds of policies and infrastructure we should be investing in.  This cultural shift will mean far more for global sustainability than any physical project ever could.”  Ryan Gravel, for CNN

“City is looking forward, not backward.”  –Steven Lit on Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue transformation organized around transit, walking and biking instigated by bus rapid transit service, which catalyzed billions in investment for highly livable development.

Albuquerque Rapid Transit, or ART

One thing that stands out when you visit Albuquerque is the variety you see along mainstreet, Central Avenue, which spans the entire city lengthwise on an east west axis.  It’s kind of a mixed bag with strong incongruities.  The Albuquerque Rapid Transit project could be a gamechanger in the way we approach this historic public space known for its vital connectivity.

Rapid Transit has been transformational in places such as Euclid Avenue in Cleveland.  It can provide a spine to tie together all the walkable, livable and thriving places on Central including downtown, the University of New Mexico, the community college, the Innovation District, Nobb Hill, health care facilities, Sandia Labs, Kirtland Air Force Base, as well as serving as a lifeline feeding emerging development.  When people have low cost and low stress transportation choices, behaviors change, and money and energy is freed up to invest in building up the economy and quality living.   Most of all it regenerates the quality of life along Central Avenue by enabling more mixed use development and human scale activities.  Quality of life is our economy, and we need to expand the quality so it flows up and down Central Ave.

Green development of the built environment along Central makes for a perfect analogue to the linear park the Rio Grande makes in its north south flow across the city.  Rapid transit helps us maintain our diverse neighborhoods and community centers but links the arts, science, culture and food that Albuquerque is so famous for together in a new way.  When we are traveling we’ll enjoy where we are at and give more attention to the people that matter to us.  We’ll have better access to outdoor amenities and adventure.  You could get on the transit to take a trip to Tingley Park and the river, or bring your bike along and go to either end of the line, and ride out into the wild open spaces of the West Mesa or foothills.  Excellent public spaces are there for us all to enjoy.  High tech businesses and small entrepreneurial endeavors can more easily intermingle.  Everyone will have better access to education and schools.  Government hubs and transportation centers such as Alvarado and the Airport can be more closely tied in.

We’ve got a lot of issues along Central right now, and how we deal with those determines our future.  Transit is a strong idea to put forward and see how it can compete with the other contenders to bring proactive solutions.  Cities are complex systems, at the intersection of health, environment, transportation, social and economic development.  It’s easy to envision rapid transit on Central providing a platform and network for positive change in Albuquerque.

Research shows rapid transit is not a speculative endeavor, but a proven generator of efficiency, creativity, and connectivity, and an attractor for private investment and talented people.  It’s a transportation fundamental that galvanizes business investment & lifts quality of life.  The chief determinant of success is leadership and people’s willingness to go for a new ride together.

References and notes:

Albuquerque’s polling results for “Where do you think the city should focus most of its future transportation investments” yielded high favorability for biking infrastructure, smart traffic management systems, and pedestrian-focused environments.  The bus rapid transit system includes a new traffic management system which can be programmed for higher performance.
http://abc-zone.com/document/survey-polling-results (page 14)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HealthLine
“The vehicles run on a diesel-electric hybrid motor system that produce 90% less emissions than regular buses.”

Turning Urban Sprawl into Sustainable Cities by Ryan Gravel, CNN
http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/23/opinion/beltline-sprawl-gravel-opinion/index.html
“This kind of change [the conversion of urban infrastructure] is critical to the region’s economic success — to any region struggling to reinvent itself so that it can thrive in the global marketplace.  Because while these new perspectives contrast sharply with previous generations who built our sprawling roadway network, they mirror national shifts in preferences about the built environment driven largely by a general disenchantment with car-dependent lifestyles and an increasing desire for cultural authenticity in the places we live and work.”

Euclid Corridor Project Helps Drive 4 Billion in Cleveland Development by Steven Lit
http://www.cleveland.com/arts/index.ssf/2008/02/euclid_corridor_project_helps.html
“Developers gravitate toward places where they see investment happening.  There’s no question it’s [the bus rapid transit investment] a catalyst.”  — Lillian Kuri, Cleveland Foundation quoted in Steven Lit’s article

Innovate ABQ + Innovation Corridor by Tim Trujillo
http://www.dpsdesign.org/how-we-work/knowledge-center/innovate-abq-innovation-corridor
I can see the innovation corridor that Tim describes extending to a third community activity center, Hiland Community, and a fourth node to Sandia Labs, Four Hills and Tramway.  Extending mixed use development and livable communities harbored on Central’s rapid transit helps everyone, and increases access to the colleges and downtown employment centers for residents of the Southeast Heights including the International District.

Right along Central now we have hidden gems such as Environmental Dynamics, Inc., which are poised to contribute to the making of the new sustainable, human scale and ecologically oriented built environment.  EDI-arch has many design and building projects pulling in the culture and heritage of New Mexico around their theme of regenerative design.
http://edi-arch.com/portfolio/on-the-boards/el-camino-real/el-camino-real-information

One of the things we might consider when envisioning the future is adding an anchor building to balance the Central Avenue corridor, expanding the breadth of the cultural shed lengthwise across the city, much like the Whitney Museum’s placement on the Highline did for NY City.  Or we can add two new buildings, one on either side of the river.

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