Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Too Much of a Good Thing

Now that we’re in Denver we're only five hours away from Santa Fe, the land of organic architecture and leftist enchantment. So as soon as the roads cleared after our pre-Christmas blizzard we jumped in the Jeep and got on our blue corn enchilada jones. You can get a look at some pics here.

I’ve been traveling to Santa Fe since I was a kid and I’ve had a chance to see the town grow into an art mecca and a favorite spot for artsy, left leaning snow birds and young, well off “creative class” types. Young or old, these are the kind of people who want a kind of San Francisco in the Southwest and who wouldn’t be caught dead living in Phoenix. I’m sure some brave soul runs a conservative talk radio station in Santa Fe, but he probably has to sleep in a different place every night to stay ahead of the hip mobs looking to eradicate him with progressive arguments and extreme prejudice.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Santa Fe. And you’ve especially gotta love the oldness of a place that dates from the early 1600’s as much as the oddness. The map of the downtown area-along with a lot of really old cities like London--looks more like a human heart than it does a rectangular grid pattern. No right angles but plenty of ring roads sprouting a jumble of snaking arteries that seem to have no rhyme or reason but do somehow get the job done.

Yet sometimes you can get too much of a good thing. Liberal yuppies and creative class types have turned the once gritty city of San Francisco into a kind of “San Francisco-Land” with far less social, economic and political diversity than it once had. I grew up in the Bay Area and I still think of San Francisco as The City, but let’s face it, the place has become sort of a bore. When pretty much everybody is from the same socio-economic class and everybody thinks the same things and everything looks pretty much alike—albeit, beautiful—a lot of the life goes out of any city.

Santa Fe’s not as far along that path as San Francisco, but you can see where things are going.

The city government forces every building to conform to pueblo architectural style or Spanish mission stuff and a basic pallet of pastel colors. So along Cerrillos Drive, the main commercial drag in town, you’re treated to cheesy pueblo IHOPs and Burger Kings that are supposed to look like they belong at Mesa Verde and lots of gas stations that look more like Taco Bells than they do the Spanish colonial gems around the Plaza.

I understand the basic impulse behind this kind of zoning. Well meaning folks want to protect the architectural heritage of Santa Fe and keep bad commercial buildings to a minimum. But the result is just the opposite. Most of the commercial town is repetitive and dull.

The drive toward playing it safe and toward conformity is pretty powerful. Hard to explain in any other way how a place like Santa Fe could end up looking increasingly like a theme park version of its original charming self.

But you've gotta have more than a little hope for the City Different.

Just gotta throw open those zoning laws to variety. And to the cool and beautiful new stuff and the well meaning ugliness that inevitably go along with it.

Oh, and maybe throw in some tax incentives to lure a whole bunch of right wing fundamentalists to relocate to Santa Fe.

Where is Rush Limbaugh when a city really needs him? :^)


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