‘Ground Up: Culture and Landscape’

with Guest Walter Hood

Date and Time
Saturday, July 21, 2012
5:30 pm
New Mexico History Museum
120 Lincoln Ave, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501

Creative Santa Fe launched its Santa Fe | Ground Up initiative with “Ground Up: Culture and Landscape.” Creative Santa Fe brought Walter J. Hood, Jr. award-winning designer and professor at the University of California Berkeley, to Santa Fe to inaugurate its “Santa Fe| Ground Up” initiative. As part of Creative Santa Fe’s IF: Imagined Futures initiative, “Santa Fe | Ground Up” is a series of workshops and events exploring Santa Fe as a city with an active, street-level culture that creates opportunity, builds community, and appeals to residents and visitors alike. Hood’s workshop and public presentation, “Ground Up: Culture and Landscape,” focused on the public spaces and cultural landscapes of Santa Fe and other cities, and the best practices for community involvement in urban design.

Who Took Part

South Side Leaders: On Friday, July 20, Hood met with elected officials and staff from the City of Santa Fe to discuss the Airport Road Area Plan for Santa Fe’s south side communities. Downtown Leaders: On Saturday morning, July 21, Hood led a workshop of two dozen community leaders to discuss strategies to make the Santa Fe Downtown more attractive to residents as well as visitors.

Broad Public Audience: On Saturday evening, a full house of 200 Santa Feans greeted Hood for his talk at the New Mexico History Museum. Hood then joined Creative Santa Fe’s Program Director Cyndi Conn for discussion and questions submitted online and from the floor.

What We Learned

The South Side planning discussion focused on ways to give distinctive Santa Fe qualities to the area’s family-oriented neighborhoods. For instance, lighting in public areas can be calibrated to ensure security while preserving the visibility of the night sky, while walking/biking paths can connect residential areas more closely.

The workshop on Downtown Santa Fe built directly on Creative Santa Fe’s May workshop on destination tourism. The major insight of the May workshop was the importance of ensuring that the Plaza and downtown areas are inviting for residents as well as tourists. If your city is exciting and rewarding for its residents, then it will hold young people, and draw visitors as well.

Hood framed the workshop discussion by observing Santa Fe’s unique quality as a place whose history is everywhere visible. He also noted that its history is not summarized by one moment in the past, but is continual, and the present has its own claims. Hence the key spaces that define Santa Fe’s downtown have shifted in form over its history. Santa Fe’s Plaza, Paseo, and Alameda once served the uses of seventeenth and eighteenth-century society, but now accommodate the habits of modern life. Great places are made as people and space continually adjust to one another.

Workshop participants contributed their own observations and memories, as the group defined what social uses predominate and most reflect the city we want. Hood recommended that Santa Feans search out the simple, obvious but overlooked first steps to improve the areas they value most. Discussion then focused three issues: how to make the park areas along the River more enjoyable, how to extend the life of the Plaza later into the evening, and how to extend the central public zone by connecting the Plaza to the Railyard and to Old Santa Fe Trail/Canyon Road.

In his evening public presentation, Hood reflected on his own experiences as a visitor to Santa Fe, and presented examples of community-based projects from other cities where residents rejected conventional planning to rebuild public spaces in ways that reflected the distinctive character of the residents. Hood emphasized ways that daily use and cultural memory can be combined in public spaces. In dialogue with the audience, Hood stressed the irreplaceable role of community involvement in planning, and ended with a specific recommendation for Santa Fe: “make your sidewalks wider.”

What Happens Next?

The Hood presentation, workshop, and community discussions contributed to the creation of an action agenda for the Santa Fe Downtown and the Santa Fe River. The agenda will include immediately-actionable, affordable and sustainable ideas for making the Downtown streets and river margins vibrant, walkable, and inviting, and for strengthening the physical, social, and programmatic connections among the sectors of central Santa Fe.

In 2012-2013, “Santa Fe|Ground Up” will continue to explore the pathways, connections, and missing links in the physical, social, and cultural makeup of the city. “Santa Fe|Ground Up” will focus on the role of public art and public spaces, from the historic Plaza to the Railyard to the south side.

Future “Ground Up” presentations will address such topics as public art, site-specific art, land art and the re-purposing or multi-purposing of infrastructure to support a creative economy.

At stake is whether Santa Fe’s cultural core will be, in art historian Chris Wilson’s words, just another “commercialized, sanitized” place, or whether it will be laced with walking routes and community spaces “as richly layered with complex memories and meanings as any in the United States.” (Chris Wilson et al., The Plazas of New Mexico, 2011).

Principal sponsor for “Cultural Landscape | Ground Up” was Zane Bennett Contemporary Art, with additional support from Lawrence Fodor and John Rochester, and Las Palomas.