When it comes to housing, it’s always about the cars.
After every other kind of NIMBYism is dispelled with logic and reason, the trump card for denial is always the darn car. The present irony is that newer “new-urbanist” neighborhoods built on Santa Fe’s south and west sides in the past 25 years are most likely to be prevented from building small long-term rental casitas on their properties because of narrow, winding streets with hardly any on-street parking.
The city calls casitas accessory dwelling units. They can increase household income and marginally help the housing crisis in the city. But the new urbanist areas — Tierra Contenta, Nava Adé, Aldea, Rancho Viejo, Oshara Village and others — have almost no short-term rentals but are the neighborhoods most likely to consider adding a long-term rental for income, according to a recent Homewise study.
Nostalgia is a funny thing. It’s amusing to look back and smile at another era’s nostalgic impulses. The birth years of baby boomers coincide with a new housing development pattern that swept America like a tidal wave. It began to swell in 1946 and continued unabated until Peter Calthorpe, the godfather of new urbanist thinking, proposed a nostalgic return to residential, mixed-use land planning.
The city of Santa Fe was lucky to entice Calthorpe to cast his gaze upon our fair town in the early 1990s, when he joined other leading luminaries in architecture, design and urban planning. Their inspiration was that social engineering could be achieved by the built environment. Local visionary architect Ed Mazria and national affordable housing financing expert Peter Werwath were on the ground back then (as they are today), planning and selling the vision of Tierra Contenta to the city.
It was bold, comprehensive and cutting-edge. But it hasn’t exactly worked out as planned.
When we boomers toddled over to change the channels on our black-and-white TVs, we didn’t see vast tracts of production housing swarming over vacant hills. No, we saw genteel homes with garages in the back yards. Or sometimes, old horse barns converted to garages with a new, second-story studio apartment where the returning vet could cope until he found a wife and a car and one of those brand-new houses in something called a subdivision.
Oh, and they were lovely subdivisions — with big, broad streets where you could park a Buick on each side and still get a fat Ford and a wide Chevy to pass one other. And a nice garage facing the street with a swath of concrete to wash and polish your new baby. That’s not all: How about tall, shady trees and sidewalks for bikes and strollers?
Only thing is, that’s what they feel like now. At the time of their construction, they were bare, sterile, repetitive and ugly, and those grand trees in Allen Stamm neighborhoods — his postwar houses are still prized for their solid Santa Fe authenticity — were just 2-inch caliper twigs staked off in the front yard.
The new urbanist fantasy hasn’t been fully realized. That retro mom-and-pop soda shop on the corner never materialized in Santa Fe’s new subdivisions, and neither have the walkable New York Times-reading cafes. There are schools sprinkled about, but it’s the rare helicopter parent these days who’ll let his or her 6-year old walk a half-mile to class like we did back in the day.
It turns out the best neighborhoods for adding density with a nice little backyard casita, or maybe even allowing the existing home to become a duplex, are those old boomer neighborhoods with plenty of on-street parking, which proposed city rules are likely to favor.
Unfortunately, they’re often the neighborhoods best organized to resist change.
Kim Shanahan is a longtime Santa Fe builder and former executive officer of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association.