Connect Santa Fe
In a recent front-page feature, the Santa Fe New Mexican looked back at the city’s 1912 master plan, the city’s first attempt at modern city planning. “Santa Fe’s most pressing need, according to the plan as approved by the City Council in December, 1912 was a better route from the railroad station to the Plaza.”
100 years later, Santa Fe has an opportunity to make good on what was envisioned a century ago—or even improve on it.
The challenge: can a workable plan be created to effectively link the Santa Fe Railyard and the Plaza, in a way that reflects the needs and desires of residents and visitors, and the realities of the 21st century?
A walkable downtown provides economic stimulus, attracts tourism, provides additional amenities for residents, promotes public health and public safety, and contributes to the environmental sustainability of the city.
On foot, one passes easily from the Railyard to the Guadalupe District, past the Church of the Virgin of Guadalupe or perhaps through the Capital District, crosses the Santa Fe River, and enters the narrow streets before emerging into the Plaza itself. In most cities, it would be considered a modest and easy walk.
Yet to many, the Railyard and Plaza feel like different and distant areas. Most think immediately about driving from one to the other, even though it actually may take longer than walking by the time they figure out where to park. For visitors, the walk between Plaza and Railyard can be disorienting. One recent young visitor described her experience: “It was beautiful, it was charming. I loved it. But I felt lost and confused the whole time.”
Walkability is a driver of economic development. More walkable places perform better economically. For neighborhoods within metropolitan areas, as the number of environmental features that facilitate walkability and attract pedestrians increase, so do office, residential, and retail rents, retail revenues, and for-sale residential values.
Walkability promotes public health. Much of the original impulse to promote walkability came from the public health sector, such as the Irvine-Minnesota Inventory, the first in-depth assessment tool for walkability.
Walkability promotes public safety. Having more people on the street is a deterrent to crime. There are more eyes, more people to contact police or other first responders, more people to aid those in distress. Designing a “walk-friendly community” can also significantly reduce the hazards to pedestrians from automobile traffic.
Walkability supports tourism. A city or community that can be navigated on foot is characteristically more attractive to tourists. They can visit without the hassle of a car, and without needing to figure out a transit system. They can have the joy of wandering with a reduced need for wayfinding. Tourists on foot have increased opportunities for small interactions with residents, in shops or cafés or simply in chance conversations.
Walkability is an amenity for residents. A 2011 study by the National Association of Realtors shows an increased preference among Americans for mixed-use neighborhoods where homes, stores, restaurants, parks and other amenities are within walking distance. An expanded Downtown Santa Fe anchored by the Railyard to the south and the Plaza to the north also provides an expanded civic zone, with ample space for residents as well as tourists, and increased opportunities for public art and public programs attractive to residents.
Walkability drives beauty. Pedestrians can see the streetscape with a finer eye for detail than those moving at higher speed. An attractive walkable zone provides opportunity for design innovation in both structure and infrastructure.
Walkability is a feature of an environmentally sustainable city. Walking simply uses less fossil fuel and generates fewer harmful emissions than automobiles or even mass transit. Pedestrian walkways last longer than drivable surfaces, have lower maintenance costs, and generate less construction waste. The United States Environmental Protection Agency promotes walkability through its sponsorship of the Walkable and Liveable Communities Institute.
In sum: Enhanced connectivity linking the Railyard and the Plaza as a walking district potentially improves Santa Fe in terms of economics, public health, public safety, aesthetics, and environmental sustainability, for visitors and residents alike.
WALK [Santa Fe]
October 31 – November 30, 2013
WALK [Santa Fe] was a month long city prototyping project demonstrating simple, affordable, and practical solutions to increase walkability in Santa Fe. The goal of WALK [Santa Fe] was for Santa Fe residents, business owners, and visitors to experience the impact that clear signage and designated pathways can make for a more vibrant and connected downtown, and begin a discussion with city leaders to consider new wayfinding solutions for downtown Santa Fe.
The project featured a clearly defined path, printed maps, and temporary street signs pointing the way to museums, galleries, shops, restaurants, and parks. Each sign had an embedded QR code with specific directions to get to each location through Google Maps technology.
Partnering with other non-profit organizations, CrSF hosted walking and biking events for an entire month. “WALK [Santa Fe] Ambassadors” were on the streets to answer pedestrians’ questions, discuss the project, and demonstrate how to use the QR codes.
This project was in coordination with the national initiative WALK [Your City]. WALK [Santa Fe] had 81 program partners making WALK [Santa Fe] the largest WALK [Your City] initiative project to date, proof of Santa Fe’s commitment to becoming a more walkable and vibrant community.
Walkability directly impacts they vibrancy, energy, health, and prosperity of communities. As urban planner Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, describes, “The walkable city is not just a nice, idealistic notion. Rather, it is a simple, practical-minded solution to a host of complex problems we face as a society.”
“As a store owner in the Railyard, the leadership on this project is a breath of fresh air with some real, workable ideas to help our businesses here and in the Downtown Plaza. This project, led by Creative Santa Fe, is an urban planning prototype and grass roots led. We believe so much in the impact that good, simple maps and way finding signs placed strategically throughout the corridor between the two plazas (Downtown and the Railyard), that we are sponsoring this event.”
Amy Parish & Jean-Philippe Saldana
Owners, Bon Marche, LLC