The suburban model is hitting its limit. Infill development is occurring in the southwest sector of Santa Fe and it’s time it happens on the northeast side. We are hearing more and more about more and more housing, and I am so relieved. But what is Santa Fe’s relationship to housing, really? Attending public meetings, it seems that if it happens somewhere else we are fine with it. Or it can happen as long as we can’t see it, or if it won’t impact my parking space.

I think Santa Feans are ready to build community, at a scale and a density that is livable, with adequate transportation choices, so that we all don’t have to get in a car every day for every trip. If we make it easy people will be glad to walk to work, school, the grocery, or to have dinner (once the pandemic lifts.)

More housing types and choices are needed. Not everyone needs a back yard, and some of us need more than a balcony. The possibilities are many: multi-family compounds, with a few stories, with courtyards; and duplexes, four-plexes, and smaller but still multi-unit apartment buildings. In addition to single-family homes and multi-story apartment blocks, we can build well-rounded neighborhoods, and neighborhoods are better places to live. The midtown campus, formerly known as the College of Santa Fe, is on hold, the St. Francis School is for sale, and St. Catherine’s is still empty. The parking lots — oh, the parking lots — PERA, Water Street, De Vargas, there are so many parking lots that could be repurposed, while still providing parking. A whole village could fit into the PERA parking lot.

There is good news. More than 4.000 units of housing (of mostly single-family homes, or apartments) are in the pipeline of the Land Use Department in Santa Fe, either built, getting built, or under consideration. The distressing news is that more than two-thirds of those are on the southwest side of Santa Fe, in Districts 3 and 4. Those districts are humming with people and activity, with kids and small businesses. Districts 1 and 2 have less housing, fewer kids, and fewer businesses. There are seemingly more roadblocks to develop closer in to the Plaza; two factors come to mind, the cost of land and fewer neighbors to object further out.

We, Santa Feans, have created this situation and demand. We have accepted that there is no choice but to have a car. We, as a community, can unmake that choice. We can provide places for Public Life to happen, to make it easier for downtown infill, to address the political economic, aesthetic, and ultimately urban life, not the uncomfortable suburban life that leads to more traffic, costlier infrastructure, more maintenance, and ultimately more isolation and loneliness.

What can we do so that housing developers and the city come together to make decent workforce housing for the people who work in Santa Fe, that want to raise their kids in Santa Fe, that we can see a neighborhood of our friends moving in, instead of more competition at the light, or at the stop sign, or on the street, and more impact to the environment? What if we found a way to finance these big pieces of land so that it benefits the community, and the community members that want to live here?

I am hearing about community solar during this legislative session, where a community such as Santa Fe could buy and sell its own power, so instead of the money Santa Feans pay for utilities going to Wall Street, the money can be used for the community. If we take over our power company like we did our water company, we can benefit Santa Fe, again. We can have a chance to find a way to design with community, not for the community, but with each other. We can allow those that need a home to direct the design. It will benefit each of us, whether we are already housed or not. That is how it works.

We are in this world together. Let’s act like it.

Gayla Bechtol received her architecture degrees from Harvard University Graduate School of Design and from the University of Southern California. Gayla Bechtol Architects is a design-centered architecture/urban design/historic preservation practice that has created designs for homes, institutions, and urban spaces for nearly 30 years. Bechtol practiced deep democracy while leading the citizens of Santa Fe to the award-winning Santa Fe Railyard. She is a board member of Friends of Architecture Santa Fe.

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