No. 13 | The City Livable?


In the January edition of The Santa Fe New Mexican’s Home Magazine, I discuss the importance of the city’s General Plan and why it hurts everyone in Santa Fe to have a plan more than two decades old. Urban Sense.


Read the Article:

“A comprehensive plan for a great and wonderful city accurately assesses the needs of its citizens and embodies responses to those needs for the future. We want a City that’s livable for our people.” (From the City of Santa Fe General Plan Policy Document, December 1989, part of an update to the 1983 Plan.)

Plans, like architecture, are not neutral. They are either helping or hurting. Many cities around the country don’t have current general, comprehensive plans guiding development and budgets for infrastructure, even though state statutes empower them to plan in order to promote health, safety and welfare. Santa Fe is a city without a current plan. Without plans, and planning, chaos can reign. An outdated plan leads to ignoring the foundation of every city:neighborhoods and the people in them.

By law, comprehensive or general plans should be updated every 5-10 years. Our city’s plan was last updated in 1999. But looking back, Santa Feans have successfully planned great projects and a great city. Thanks to past plans, community outreach and conversation, we have created affordable housing in Tierra Contenta and elsewhere. We were able to keep the Railyard local-focused, creating a 10-acre park in the downtown area, with connections to bicycle trails and network, which is also a result of long-range planning (started in the 1980s). We continue to have a robust Historic Districts Review process, preserving our cultural resources. We protected our geographic setting with a Hillside and Terrain Management ordinance, limiting development on the hills that surround Santa Fe. We have controlled growth with an urban boundary. We also have planned transportation alternatives, a Water Plan and a Sustainability Plan, addressing the needs of our community in to the future.

Santa Fe was the first New Mexico city to have a General Plan. The 1912 Plan not only dictated a style, but also regularized roads, helping citizens to think locally. Pride, civic idealism and a desire to protect historic buildings, plazas, and landscapes shaped the plan that acknowledged the city’s “potential tourist appeal.” We benefit from this plan every day in Santa Fe.

The City of Santa Fe General Plan in 1999 had many community-oriented goals, which included the promise of affordable housing, higher quality of life, transportation alternatives, economic diversity, sustainable growth, water use, mixed-use, community use, downtown accessibility and urban form. These goals continue to help support Santa Fe’s vision and needs for the future. But the plan is more than 20 years old, without updates, even though much has changed in the last two decades, including annexations.

Outdated general plans mute citizens’ voices, and make development more difficult — resulting in more expensive and perhaps less successful plans. For example, without an updated General Plan with current community discussions — a goal from the 1983 and 1999 — plans such as a view corridor (which was protected in past planning efforts for their scenic values) can be seen as prime developable land. With an updated General Plan, we can make more informed decisions, explore all of the options holistically. During a community planning process, we will look forward, addressing all of the goals identified as important, to envision the future and how we will get there.

A current and robust General Plan will lead to predictability for all, helping developers make better plans themselves and ensure that members of neighborhoods are represented in the process. But, at the moment, something that feels close to chaos reigns.

Gayla Bechtol received her architecture degrees from Harvard University and from the University of Southern California. Gayla Bechtol Architects is a design-centered architecture/urban design/historic preservation practice that has created designs for homes, institutions, and urban spaces for nearly 30 years. Bechtol practiced deep democracy while leading the citizens of Santa Fe to the award-winning Santa Fe Railyard. She is a board member of Friends of Architecture Santa Fe.


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