NOTE: Recently, there has been some negative press about Downtown ABQ. For the most part, it is the typical repetitive chorus: crime, homelessness, abandonment, the same things that have been repeated year after year. Many among us here at UrbanABQ have been confused by the negativity. After all, there is a huge amount of exciting investment being made in our urban core. Tim Trujillo, who started this rapidly growing UrbanABQ community many years ago, decided to write his own opinion of Downtown in response. This is an ode, a tribute, a story about a place that has risen and fallen in popularity but is quickly being restored to its rightful position as the cultural and creative Heart of the City. -Dan Majewski
Despite the sensational news stories about your so-called crime-ridden, vacant streets and office buildings, I know who you really are. You’re a young neighborhood, akin to an adolescent, still trying to figure it out and I’m just fine with that.
I can understand the confusion. We’ve all been through adolescence and can empathize with the identity crisis. Everyone wants you to be something and someone, but you are just not ready to say exactly who or what that is quite yet. You’re evolving. On one hand, you are home to over 15,000 jobs that provide employment for citizens from the entirety of a metro area nearing one million residents. On the other, you are the entertainment center of the state hosting several of the best performance venues offering an array of live local, national, and international acts as well as the latest blockbuster movies. You offer culinary experiences that range from downright thrifty to flavors and complexity that rival the best of Nob Hill and Santa Fe. You provide the hub for the region’s transportation network, offering service to and from every corner of the metro and places beyond. You are a growing education center, soon home to Innovate ABQ and CNM’s STEMulus Center. You even host a farmer’s market that is as good as they come. Whatever you do, don’t feel sorry for yourself, downtown. You have so much going for you whether others see it or not.
As someone who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, I have seen you change and it is certainly for the better. Back then, you were merely an office park. Sure, you provided more jobs than you do today, but you’re much more dynamic these days for all the reasons that I listed. You are also rapidly becoming a true urban neighborhood, soon to be home to thousands of residents. The media makes it sound as if you are limited in your demographic, suggesting that you only attract residents to your so-called low-income housing. What they don’t understand is that your housing is not low-income, but is instead mixed income. From the affordable Silver Moon Lodge and Silver Gardens Apartments to the market rate Anasazi and 100 Gold Lofts, you are drawing all demographics of income earners because they are attracted to you for who you are and what you promise to be. That makes you more exciting than any single neighborhood around. You are one of the first two neighborhoods to fully rebound from 2007 prices. Obviously you’re doing something right.
Downtown, what they don’t tell you is that no one between El Paso and Denver, or Phoenix and Oklahoma City can even compete with you. To be honest, even with those options, I still choose you. No other neighborhood in the region has the variety, dynamic character, and authenticity that you do, which include over one hundred years of history in industrial era buildings to postmodern works. Not to mention hundreds of years of cultural history. Your architecture offers unrivaled scale and style varieties. The sky is literally the limit with you in terms of height and density, meaning you’ll always provide an urban oasis in an area otherwise composed of sprawling, sleepy, faux abode repetition.
In the six months I have lived in your community, downtown, I have witnessed so much change and improvement. Several residential projects either started or restarted. Recently, you lost a few sandwich shops, and maybe a donut shop here and there, but gained a wider variety of options in return. Not many people I know are lamenting the loss of Subway, Crossroad’s Café, or Rooster’s because now there is Chinese, Greek, and soon there will be another excellent New Mexican option. This transition has not been easy, but you’ve managed to achieve this while the economy has remained largely stagnant and without a dime of public investment.
We all know you are not like your brothers and sisters of downtown Denver, Portland, or Austin, nor should you try to be. Those are unfair comparisons when you consider their downtowns are the centers of metro areas two to four times as large. But you are not unlike them some 15 to 20 years ago when they began to receive investment from their citizens. I cannot wait to see you in the fall when you have hundreds of new residents, a shiny, renovated convention center, and new restaurants. I’m even more excited about the University’s investment in Innovate ABQ and the City’s Bus Rapid Transit project. I moved from one of those “in” city centers, and while I could sell out to consume one those already-created places, I take comfort in being a part of and witnessing your evolution and improvement. You might not believe it today, but in a few years you will attract press from all over the country asking what you did and how you became so popular. Soon, everyone will be asking you to go to the prom. Just know that it is not your fault if things go south because it is ultimately up to the citizens of this city and state to invest in you to help you be your best.