Thursday, January 10, 2008

downtown plan counterpoint

After my last post concerning a significant downtown neighborhood, I thought it would be interesting to talk about the positives of the downtown plan. It's true it has it's issues that I believe need addressing, but there are some interesting things that I think will do a whole lot of good. This includes those neighborhoods who stand to gain (or lose) the most. Aside from the positive changes regarding preserving the most significant historic areas in downtown, I do like the infill residential development planned for the magoffin neighborhood. Much deserved, as I think it is one of the cooler neighborhoods in the city.

There is an area of south el paso in the segundo barrio neighborhood that attracts a large part of border commerce, fueled by the mexican shopper. It is this area that takes up a sizeable chunk of the redevelopment acreage. The "golden horseshoe", as it's known, unquestionably is highly profitable. This area could be seen as somewhat run down and rough around the edges, but it does have character. I've often wondered why it hasn't been designated a historic district. That's probably my biggest beef with the proposals to revitalize this part of the neighborhood. There is nothing to my knowledge that recognizes (and protects) the cultural and historic aspects before slapping a "redevelopment" sticker on it and passing it over to developers. The city really needs to take a better look at that. I do know there have been surveys to ascertain the historic significance of buildings in the downtown plan, but the city has so far kept this information out of the public domain. It's a step in the right direction, but I think the public really needs to be made aware of what could potentially be demolished and what will be saved. In my opinion, the fabric of these buildings is more important as a cohesive whole than their individual worth. Plus the crap people build today will always be architecturally inferior to what was built back in the day. Just my opinion.. Back to the topic at hand. Ahem.

The golden horseshoe does need work. Property owners in this area ride the wave of profit all the while keeping their buildings up just enough in order to keep their property taxes low. This, in effect, has caused a downward spiral over the last several decades. The same could be said for much of the downtown area. I do respect that aspect of the plan. There are several property owners (I can think of one in particular) who have invested the absolute minimum to make their buildings meet code, usually on the first floor. Meanwhile, the building overall (particularly on the upper floors) proceeds to degrade and fall apart. This really burns my hide. Eminent domain has come to be a dirty word around these parts lately, but in the case of irresponsible building owners, I wish someone had done something sooner. And so it goes. I'm sure in the coming years, the specifics of what will actually go down will come to light. And I intend to be there to blog about it. :)

For your reading pleasure, here are a couple of articles I've dug up. The first was written by one of our city representatives regarding the golden horseshoe and the other about negligent building owners. Enjoy!

1. Downtown plan (golden horseshoe)
2. Downtown cancer

Monday, January 7, 2008

life is too short

Well, plans have changed. Remember the big hubub about refinishing the baby's room? I've decided that taking on a project of this size at this point in time is just not feasible. I was talking to the local old house guru not too long ago and recounted the pain of trying to refinish my wood. After he learned the wood was originally painted, I grinned in agreement when I heard the words "life is too short". The decision had already been made, but it made me feel a little better about my wasted effort.

Basically there is no way I can work on this room in such a short period of time with a pregnant woman in the house. Despite my efforts to block off the room & work on it only when my wife was out of the house, it proved to be a bit too much. For those out there considering this, trust me, it's no easy task. Several days of my doing nothing else but working on that room yielded nowhere the progress I anticipated. Alas, such is life. As a bit of consolation, the wood is definitely paint grade. I found some dark streaked wood and knots. So I'm not going to lose too much sleep over it..

Maybe someday, but as of now it ain't gonna happen. I still plan to work on the downstairs refinishing, so don't fret.. There's still much wood to scrape. Instead I've decided to refocus my energy to work on the cracks in the plaster walls. First course of action is opening up the cracks a bit. You can see some quarter sized holes. Those will have to be patched up several layers thick to prevent any future cracks. Actually at the time of this writing, I just finished putting the 3rd layer of joint compound in the cracks. Next, some quick sanding and I'm ready for paint. This is good..

Sunday, January 6, 2008

segundo barrio

There's been much talk regarding the neighborhoods adjacent to downtown ever since the downtown plan came into public knowledge in october 2006. Our downtown has slowly decayed for a period of 20 - 30 years. The city sprawled, malls were constructed, and downtown lost its importance. However, the once great urban core has been coughing and sputtering to regain its former glory, probably most noticeably in the last 5 - 10 years. The plan at its unveiling has been received by much praise, protest, and uncertainty. The plan boundaries encompass some 127 acres, much of this acreage adjacent to what many el pasoans consider "downtown". The neighborhoods mostly affected are to its east (magoffin), west (union plaza), and south (segundo barrio).

Prior to yesterday, I had never given much thought to what would become of these neighborhoods as depicted in the plan. From a high level, the plan sounds great on paper. Entertainment areas have been selected, the lifestyle retail areas have been designated and the historic areas have been accounted for. Or have they? The neighborhood known as the second ward, or segundo barrio to its residents, is a place with much history. It's been the inspiration for the mexican revolution and played a significant role in the chicano movement. I ventured down into the neighborhood innocently enough at the request of a friend of mine. The place was Sacred Heart catholic church, a beautiful turn of the century building. The neighborhood breathed with vibrancy and life. The most urban neighborhood in the city didn't disappoint. I felt at home and marveled at the wonderful architecture surrounding the old church. Problem is, as so quaintly designed in the plan, the future of this beautiful old neighborhood is uncertain.

An article I found details some of the architectural and historical significance in part of the neighborhood that's within the redevelopment zone. The writer is recognized as an authority on the subject so I won't try to summarize. I'll leave it to the reader to form their own opinion. The author obviously has a stake in the outcome of the plan, but I'm still concerned whether or not it should even include this neighborhood. The church and the surrounding block appears safe as its listed as a sensitive site, but what about the rest? Frankly, the idea of destroying such a significant chunk of the city's history for a mercado and border retail (the wal-mart conspiracy) makes me sick. That is, if the reader takes the article (and the plan) at face value. And that's what is so unsettling about the whole thing. On the one hand, I'm excited. Finally it seems there are enough people who give a damn and are willing to do something about downtown. But then there's the other part of me that wonders "will they really tear down all those buildings in the redevelopment zone"?

I pray that whatever "redevelopment" does occur is as minimal as possible. What's so wrong with infill development and rehabbing old buildings anyhow? Does the downtown renaissance the city so wants to achieve have to come at such a high price? I don't think it has to..

Read the article here.

Various documents for the downtown plan.