Back when the city actually had a Long Range Planning Division staffed by professionals with proud memberships in the American Planning Association, there was an emerging focus on something called “walkability scores.”
Apparently the mayor believes he can figure out long-range planning by himself with his coterie of department heads, since there’s nobody minding the long-range planning store and no apparent plan to fill those vacant positions or resurrect the citizen panel that gave input to those seasoned professionals.
As someone who drives into town and gets off at the St. Francis Drive exit, I’ve lately noticed a lot more pedestrians around the Zia Road intersection. It seemed curious, because pedestrians are rare there, until I remembered the proximity of Santa Fe Suites, the apartment complex the city purchased to help transition homeless people into stable housing.
Managed by St. Elizabeth Shelters, the much-respected Santa Fe institution headed by Edward Archuleta, it can house 120 people in the compact, apartment-like units. Coincidentally, a Google search for the suites still pops up a dozen advertisements for a stay, as if you could get off the interstate and book a room.
All the new foot traffic on St. Francis jogged my memory about “walkability scores” that Reed Liming, the last long-range planning director who retired in 2017, had introduced to members of the Long Range Planning Committee, of which I was the last chairman.
Much to our surprise, the map Liming produced showed the highest scores were not where we see the most pedestrians — downtown around the Plaza — but along St. Michael’s Drive.
A good walkability score does not mean the safest place to walk, which the St. Michael’s corridor is decidedly not, but rather the area with the highest density of key things within proximity of where you live and can get to on foot. Places like a bank, grocery store, hospital, school or hardware store.
Downtown used to have all those things, but not anymore. Does anybody even live downtown anymore?
One of the worst areas for walkability is, not surprisingly, the Airport Road corridor. There are some goods and services strung out along the road, but it’s a darn long road to walk from one end to the other. And let’s face it, Santa Fe isn’t much of a walking-around-town place, anyway. Maybe it could be, but it isn’t now.
The St. Francis-Zia Road area is undergoing high-density changes. With new Rodeo Road apartments recently coming online, and new units added to existing apartments on St. Francis, plus tentative approval for a three-story apartment complex, the pedestrian traffic is bound to increase.
That’s good, perhaps, for minimizing sprawl, but since the grocery store, pharmacy, restaurants and other services are across six lanes of high-speed traffic, one questions whether any long-range planning was considered. A descanso in the area is silent testament to pedestrian dangers.
Meanwhile, the midtown campus, the geographic center of maximum walkability, continues to twist in the wind, waiting for a unicorn developer to engage the city’s long-range planners on how to get something done in our lifetime.
Except there are no long-range planners at City Hall, and if there were, they’d likely be tasked with the fool’s errand of creating a consensus-based “growth management plan” that is bound to be blasé, tepid and meaningless.
Instead, we should be assisting private and nonprofit developers in a “development management plan” that takes into account sensible long-range planning.
Sure, and maybe a unicorn will be elected mayor someday.