ABQ Needs More Density; Says Who?
There was a question that we used to snarl as kids when someone tried to tell us what to think, how to act and what they proclaimed was a universal truth. And that question was:
Those two words said so much. To put it gently, they meant, “Who the hell are you to tell me what to do?” A stronger interpretation was, “F*** off, asshole. You have no authority to tell me how to live and what to think.”
I've been repeating those two words to myself over the past couple of years as I've watched Mayor Richard Berry foist a useless, nine-mile bus line on a city that almost no one wanted, and as city planners and developers pushed through the massive, city-wide zoning change that's called the Integrated Development Ordinance.
The stated reason for Berry's $126 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit project and the IDO is simple: Albuquerque needs to become more dense in its layout, architecture and development. That means the city needs more apartment complexes, taller apartment buildings and more single-family homes crammed onto an acre of land than we have now.
In short, it means more people living closer to and on top of each other.
The mantra has become, “We need more density.” And when I hear that, I reflexively ask myself:
It's not people in the neighborhoods that are demanding more apartment and high-rise office buildings in their areas. There were no burlap-clad mobs of people armed with pitch forks, sledge hammers and torches marching on City Hall night after night screaming and shouting, “Bus rapid transit now or city officials die!”
Never in my 32 years here have I heard any of my neighbors, people at the grocery stores or in the bars say anything remotely like, “You know, what this city really needs is high-density transit corridors. My life will be made immeasurably better and richer with transit-oriented developments. We need them now!”
Most so-called regular people in this town are happy with its layout, and they're happy to be able to get around in their cars, trucks and SUVs anytime they want. They're thrilled that they don't have to wait forever for a bus and then run the risk of getting mugged once they get on one.
And most people are happy that they've got big yards, a garage for their cars and that they don't live next to apartment complexes with all the problems they can bring.
So if most of us aren't begging for and demanding more apartment complexes and high-density transit corridors, who is?
City planners, developers and real estate people. The planners buy into every new fad – and they come along every 10 or 15 years – and the real estate people and developers make money each time a building is torn down and an apartment or high-rise put up in its place. If the planners didn't buy into the fads, they'd be out of work.
Those three groups generally have contempt for the rest of us. They believe that they – not the rest of us – should be able to dictate how we live and what the city looks like. They believe that we are nuisances and that we exist only to be milked of our money in the form of higher taxes and higher rents and mortgages. They believe that they should control our neighborhoods and how we live and get around, not us.
They believe that they can give the rest of us the finger.
And that leads me to ask all of those people: Who the hell are you to tell me how to live? Who are you that you get to decide what my neighborhood should look like? Who the hell do you think you are that you think you can lord over the rest of us?
Who the hell are you to tell all those small businesses along Central Avenue that they're no longer wanted and that they're a nuisance and a barrier to high-density development?
And who are you to tell us that we need more density when we don't want it?
You know what you are? A bunch of elitists and greed mongers who think you know better than the collective citizenry. To put it another way, you believe in tyranny and that you get to be the bosses and tyrants. You believe that you can tell people whose families have lived in certain neighborhoods for generations that they're full of shit. You believe that you can take their neighborhoods away from them.
I heard recently from a woman in Martineztown that a high-profile architect in town told her that he and the developers wanted to turn her beautifully old and quirky neighborhood into a bedroom community for people from the UNM cancer and medical centers.
That's right, an architect was telling a woman who grew up in Martineztown, and whose relatives helped found it more than a hundred years ago, what her neighborhood should become. The hell with what her and her neighbors think and want. The developers and architects rule.
You people believe that you can stomp all over the rest of us.
Well, you can't.
I spent the first half of my life in a dense city and I no longer want to live so close to other people that I can smell their lousy cooking, listen to their arguments and hear their toilets flush. I like my cinder block wall and I hate nosy neighbors. And I love it that I can have a big garden in my back yard.
Here's another thing. I'll bet that 98 percent of those city planners who blather on so lovingly about dense, transit-oriented developments don't live in apartments and don't take public transportation anywhere.
I'll bet that there isn't a developer in this town who doesn't live in a single-family home.
So the developers and planners need to get this straight: we're sick of you trying to dictate to us how we're supposed to live. We control this city, not you.
Says all the rest of us.