I’m reminded how much of a green bubble I live in here in the Vancouver area every time I spend a few days in a major city in America’s middle section, like Albuquerque, New Mexico.
I spent five days there last week, including a maddening afternoon trying to run a few quick errands in a city clearly engineered for fast-moving automobiles powered by cheap and limitless petroleum. We’re talking six-lane arterials fronting acre-sized parking-lots with limited on-off access. Think miles of concrete sound walls isolating cheek-and-jowl tract housing from the engine noise.
It’s no wonder Albuquerque’s retail is largely Big Box; the storefront has to be two hundred feet high if you have any hope of noticing the logo as you blaze on by. It’s pushing 100 degrees down there, and everyone on the roads is emptying the tank rushing around, committing to hours or driving just to pick up a few things. Welcome to James Kunstler’s happy motoring utopia, circa 2008.
I spotted perhaps two or three Priuses over the course of five days, and barely a smattering of Fits, Yarises, and other next-gen subcompacts. The arterials were swarming with pickups, SUVs, muscle cars, and big sedans: They were either sailing along at 65 MPH, or stuck idling in long lines at long red lights
The place feels profoundly stuck. Nobody connects the dots. Nobody even sees the dots.
Well, almost nobody. I did get an insider tour of the Nob Hill neighborhood, which is being dragged, kicking and screaming into the walkable mixed-use era, in part thanks to the efforts of city councilor Martin Heinrich. Martin proudly showed the multi-story residential buildings under construction along Central Avenue, which exist because of zoning amendments that he fought for. Martin is now running for Congress in the state’s first congressional district. It will be a tough fight; he has his work cut out for him.
As as our plane climbed steeply out of the Duke City airport, my four-year-old son peeked out the window with me. "Dad, I’m trying to spot the people," he said, scanning the shrinking sidewalks and shoulders of the asphalt jungle below.
I didn’t know what to tell him; I couldn’t see them either.