Between The Lines

The $15 Million Catch-22 of ABQ’s ‘Culturally Inclusive’ Walking Path

Albuquerque residents concerned about the gentrifying effects of the proposed Rail Trail on First Street Downtown ought not worry: gentrification is inevitable in the short term, but if the city doesn’t do something about the violence and homelessness, the most expensive transient park in history will drive down rent for decades to come.

The city’s plan to beautify the one-mile stretch from the Rail Yards to Lomas is slated to cost $15.2 million, split between city, state, and federal tax payers (because middle-class workers from Buffalo to Bozeman won’t want to miss out on the “world class amenities” coming to the Duke City!).

“The Greater Rail Trail Area is a historically underserved community and has suffered from decades of disinvestment. The residents in the Greater Rail Trail Area are more likely to be in poverty, more likely to be renters, and more likely to have a non-vehicular commute.” 

— City of Albuquerque Rail Trail Proposal

But with “world class amenities” come “world class rent hikes,” and if the Rail Trail gentrification project succeeds in becoming everything its advocates hope it will, the poor minorities in the area will eventually be displaced, and no amount of “culturally inclusive” art will save them.

Intended to “catalyze redevelopment” in the “historically underserved” area, the one-mile stretch of walking and biking paths will honor diversity with culturally reverent art projects celebrating Hispanic and Native heritage, themes of “Afro and indigenous Futurism,” and teams of do-gooders to “tackle equity,” “ensure diversity,” and “drive inclusivity.”

If this sounds like strategically placed woke euphemisms used as cover for what in reality is a space celebrating brown people that only white people can afford, that’s only true if the city can convince people it’s safe enough to bring their families out and spend some money.

via CABQ Rail Trail Executive Summary

The city’s proposal doesn’t specifically address the cleanup of tent colonies and junkies living along this bleak stretch of road, but the plan does acknowledge the security concerns and lighting needs of the area. To attract anyone to First Street (particularly since the movie theater announced it was permanently closing), the city will have to do something drastic to fix the dark underpasses and rowdy Greyhound bus station crowd, to say nothing of the rabble that wanders the side streets in the neighborhood.

While there’s no guarantee the city can pull it off, one has to assume that’s the goal. Why else waste $15 million.

First and Central is the welcome mat of Downtown, and if it’s not cleaned up, it will remain a ghost town of zombie drug addicts and panhandlers.

Damned If You Do…

The Catch-22 of improving anything is that “quality of life” is a matter of resources. If you ignore an area, it degrades, becomes less desirable, and attracts only people who can’t afford to live somewhere better. Improvements create the opposite effect, increasing demand, attracting wealth, and displacing lower socio-economic classes to cheaper, shadier, and more dangerous areas. 

If the Rail Trail project succeeds in attracting tourism and new businesses, it will fail the low-income minority population in the area currently. 

The city has decided that this is a necessary evil.

Breaking a Few Eggs

Plans to improve a community, even if only a mile long and funded on the backs of taxpayers, should not be scrapped because of the effects on low-income renters. You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet, as the saying goes.

Unless the definition of “world class” recently changed to mean “affordable for the poor,” no amount of culturally artistic shade structures will keep rent down.

And that’s the point of commercial improvement districts: they attract more people to the area, more people spend more money, more money increases demand for both residential and commercial space, which increases property values, which increases rent, which prices out the poor, forcing them to move to cheaper (less desirable) areas of town.

But with that gentrification comes improved safety, commerce, and jobs that would not occur if the area remained economically depressed.

A Really Expensive Omelet

While improvements should not be avoided just because they negatively impact people who can’t afford to partake in “world class amenities,” $15.2 million for a single mile of walking path seems like a hefty price tag, no matter how many Afro Futurism murals there are. 

The City of Albuquerque is accepting feedback on the Rail Trail project: click here to submit a comment.

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