Ever notice people complaining about “ugly” new apartments never cite the apartments that aren’t ugly? Critical opinions are so much easier than constructive ones.
I learned early on as a contractor to keep aesthetic opinions to myself. Getting dragged into the “What do you think?” conversation with a client made me cringe. My silent thought was always, “Just make a decision and let’s get going.”
That was frustrating for many clients, because most people seek validation for their tastes. If you agree with them and say something looks great and then they change their mind, you’re left holding the bag — defending a decision they abandoned. Not a good place to be.
I learned to shrug and offer an amicable “whatever.” At the expense of angering architect and designer friends, I have to admit I really don’t care. You’re all great.
It’s kind of the same thing with “neighborhood character” and “managing growth.” I don’t know how to measure the former and am certain the latter cannot be done.
Baked into the first notion is neighborhood character must be preserved. That almost always means no change, including to the vacant tract where dogs walk, wildflowers bloom and prairie dogs gambol.
Managing growth is fraught with legal liabilities and unintended consequences. Mayor Alan Webber is floating the idea of spending $200,000 with an outside firm to study whether we can create a growth management plan. Current citizens are encouraged to participate. Wow. Thanks for the invite.
Managing growth sounds reasonable and civilized, as if we just had the political will to ignore greedy developers, it could actually be done. Developers and builders don’t create growth, they serve it. The only effective limit to growth is cost. If it costs too much to live someplace, you either move or never come. Aspen, Colo., is a great example of how well that works.
But Aspen never had families tracing their roots back 400 years.
Some say we should just put a moratorium on new building permits. But that invites this response: “Great, I’ve got mine, now close the gates. And gee, the value of my property keeps going up and up as wealthy gentrifiers snap up whatever becomes available at whatever price.” Are we ready for the million-dollar double-wide?
Problem is, we don’t have gates to close. Managing growth imagines that it can be done. But like pretty apartments, nobody in my 35 years of watching growth in Santa Fe has ever proven it can be done.
On the other hand, we can have “smart growth” — another value-laden term without consensus definition.
For me, it would start with harvesting, treating and reusing every drop of water that hits an impervious surface.
Santa Fe has the lowest per capita daily water use of anywhere in the western United States, which is impressive, but per capita water usage in Auckland, New Zealand, is half of Santa Fe’s.
To do better, pass new multifamily water-use restrictions as we have now on new single-family homes. Immediately.
The housing shortage is real, and the lack of affordable housing is a crisis. The proof is the ever-rising median price index of homes. All the “ugly” new apartments have barely made a dent in the problem, if at all. The city should bond to build infrastructure for new housing with tight strings attached so developers practice maximum sustainability and affordability.
Neighborhood character and managing growth is not about ugly or pretty buildings. It is always about people. Especially people whose roots are deep and with a wish for their kids and grandkids to live in the same town where they grew up. Even if it means renting an ugly apartment.