Reality Testing the IDO – Will Our New Zoning Code Help Us Rebuild Our “Missing Middle”?

img_5671“Updating Albuquerque’s zoning code is among the single most impactful things anyone can do today for our future… It will literally shape the the next several decades of our city.  
Done right, it can accelerate the future we want.”

–Gary Oppedahl, City of Albuquerque Economic Development Director


On the evening of September 21st at the convention center, 85 bankers, brokers, developers, planners, design professionals and neighborhood residents worked in diverse teams for three hours to “reality test” the City’s draft zoning code to see how easy it was to use and what kind of new developments it will generate.

What We Learned  

  • Almost everyone in the room learned something about the development process itself–whether it be some of the challenges in balancing construction costs with locally obtainable rents, or the need for an easier, more predictable process from both the neighborhood and developer perspective, among other things.
  • The current, decades-old zoning code is 1,000+ pages. It has grown like sedimentary rock–layer by layer. It has convoluted pathways and often, parts of it conflict with others.  
  • As such, it hinders development, especially the type of development that many people in Albuquerque would like to see more of. It also provides a painful experience for development that does happen. Streamlining it is essential.
  • Sector plans have historically been a key way to envision and implement neighborhood or district development or redevelopment. They also can add a another layer of complexity, even confusion, for anyone trying to develop a property.
  • For the most part, current on site parking requirements diminished the quality, and often the very possibility of, development on a site.   
  • Modernizing the zoning code for an entire city is an enormous undertaking. Envisioning what it will look like and what it will lead to in any one part of the city can be difficult to do by just reading it.

What Is The Missing Middle?

The specific focus at this session was on the “missing middle”.  According to Missing Middle Housing:

“Missing middle is a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types compatible in scale with single-family homes that help meet the growing demand for walkable urban living. These types provide diverse housing options along a spectrum of affordability, including duplexes, fourplexes, and bungalow courts, to support walkable communities, locally-serving retail, and public transportation options.”
“Missing middle is a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types compatible in scale with single-family homes that help meet the growing demand for walkable urban living. These types provide diverse housing options along a spectrum of affordability, including duplexes, fourplexes, and bungalow courts, to support walkable communities, locally-serving retail, and public transportation options.”

These kinds of buildings can be found throughout cities across America and in Albuquerque’s historic and older neighborhoods. Since zoning codes were introduced around the 1960s, many of these building types have been made illegal to build today. They’re often classified as ‘nonconforming’ uses, making them literally illegal to build new, despite their existence. What has resulted since the 1960s is neighborhoods consisting almost exclusively of single family homes, no mixed use buildings (like the old neighborhood grocery, shops or restaurants), and a reduction in the diversity of our neighborhoods.

img_0346When diverse teams came together at over 20 tables, participants at each one came away with a better understanding of what it takes for development to happen, how the market determines what can get built and how the code can either drag that down in bureaucracy and uncertainty, or set a clear and achievable standard for developers and investors that protects neighborhood character–by design.

Setting the Right Expectations

It is far more efficient for neighborhood character protections to be “baked into” the regulations, not “designed by committee” once a development is proposed. The community should be involved in setting the bar upfront, getting it written into law once and for all, and then only developers meeting that bar can develop. Instead of zoning regulations driving developers away, many communities are streamlining their codes to “advertise” exactly what kind of development they want with the understanding that if a developer can deliver it, they have a clear path to success prescribed in the code.

Getting what we want, however, needs to happen within the constraints of what kinds of rents our local market will generate. As each team learned, rents determine how much the developer can afford to build–size, shape, stories, and amenities.    

“If you can’t get the rent needed to cover the construction costs, you can’t build the building!” – John Anderson

While teams learned about how rents in a particular market can make or break a development, some people also reflected on the relationship between zoning and the city’s tax base: by allowing more density, we will generate more tax revenue. One question raised: how can neighborhoods that might tolerate higher density share in the benefits of an increased tax base? Examples exist where some revenues could be invested back into a neighborhood to implement desired capital improvements such as sidewalk repairs, new street lighting, and more.

The Event

Our exercise on September 21st was similar to the one hosted by UNM and the local ULI chapter on September 13th, as discussed in our previous article. However, our exercise asked some slightly different questions:

  • How can the new IDO allow or encourage small scale, neighborhood sized development in the City of Albuquerque?

  • How can the new IDO allow or encourage mixed-use, mixed income, pedestrian friendly development along high capacity transit corridors such as Central Avenue?

With a similar mix of different stakeholders, this event focused on the work of John Anderson, a small scale infill developer.

John has a formula that anyone can use to develop smaller properties at a reasonable cost, a cost so reasonable anyone can do it. John’s formula explicitly works for people who don’t necessarily consider themselves developers. Often those with some background in construction labor are, in fact, becoming entrepreneurial “solo-preneurs”among the now thousands he’s trained across the US.

John Anderson provides advice to a table of people attempting to write a “proforma” (a development budget of costs and revenues) for an example development site.
John Anderson provides advice to a table of people attempting to write a “proforma” (a development budget of costs and revenues) for an example development site.

Teams of stakeholders and interested folks were created to include a diverse mix of perspectives—from neighborhood residents to city regulators, developers to design professionals. Each table was given a sample site and charged with using the proposed zoning category and draft zoning code to create a development plan and a budget, called a pro forma, that would work in Albuquerque’s real estate market. Sample sites were similar to many found across Albuquerque:

  • Single and double lots
  • Mid-block lots, with or without an alley
  • Corner lots

With teams acting as potential developers, participants got a sense of whether the draft zoning code helps streamline the development process and whether it facilitates the kinds of development we want. The teams were also able to identify potential improvements in the draft before it becomes final sometime in 2017.  Participants experienced first-hand the challenges of the development process by working with team of professionals, concerned neighborhood groups and department officials. They learned what affects development and how the new IDO strives to streamline the development process and ensures that the buildings built in Albuquerque in the future are in line with community desires.

Making the Projects Pencil

So what happened? Did the attendees learn more about the development process? Did they figure out out to make the rent pencil? Let’s see:

About half of the tables were able to figure out how to make their development work with the proposed new zoning code, or IDO, requirements. Some of these tables used unique loopholes to make their projects work, such as putting their required open space on the roof, something which likely wouldn’t be allowed in the real world. Many of the unsuccessful tables were impeded by the costs of parking requirements. For example, see what happened when one table tried to add underground parking to their project:

Notable Quotes

  • “Our lot was really small. We fit in 13 parking spaces on our lot but we have 16 units plus commercial space. If there wasn’t on-street parking or good transit service, we might be in trouble.”
  • “Our lot was too small to build anything dense under the proposed zoning code.”
  • “Low income housing could be built on the far end of town but…. affordable housing should be close to where there’s services, where there’s jobs, etc. In these locations, the rents are higher for commercial tenants. If the rent is higher than you need more stories of residential to balance your incomes.”
  • “In order to effectively develop mixed use low income buildings, the zoning code should allow for five stories.”
  • “Do you really want just one and two story buildings along the largest transportation investment that we have? Or do you want to accommodate mixed use, a vibrant ground floor that provides amenities to the area? You could just do a standard workforce housing project but it’s not really accomplishing the goals of the city.”

What Did You Think?

We’d love feedback on this or other posts. Like it? Too long? What would you like to see instead?  Whatever your reaction, we’d love to hear it at CentralGood2Great@gmail.com

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What We’re Reading

“Hacking” the Zoning Code – Coming Together to Shape Albuquerque’s Future

“The last zoning code lasted a generation—and shaped everything we see in our city from then on. It’s critical to help make the current draft code revision into something that creates the kind of city we all want in the coming decades–with the certainty to actually attract that very kind of development.”

On the morning of Tuesday, September 13th, 50 property owners, developers, lenders, architects, neighborhood residents and city planning staff gathered to figure out, in a collaborative environment, whether and how the proposed draft zoning code under development is significantly easier to work with than the current one, which is decades-old. Another objective was to determine to what degree it will positively shape our city’s buildings and places in the next few decades.

Each table had a mix of people with different expertise and opinions about how to make Albuquerque greater
Each table had a mix of people with different expertise and opinions about how to make Albuquerque greater

The intention of this event was to “debug” any items before the draft code is adopted by City Council early next year and test it using real sites and potential projects to see how effective the code’s details are in enabling development the entire community can be happy with.  

Collaborative planning is messy
Collaborative planning is messy

Organized by the University of New Mexico’s Design and Planning Assistance Center (DPAC) and the New Mexico chapter of the Urban Land Institute (ULI), the event gathered different people with different perspectives around each of the many tables to hear each other’s ideas and reactions and together seek to build a development that the Albuquerque market could support and that everyone could be happy with.   

The Integrated Development Ordinance or IDO

This project is a part of a streamlining and rewriting of the city’s development regulations in a process called ABC to ZThe goal is to gather community input to clearly “set the bar” upfront for new development.

Input will be gathered on questions such as:

  • where should different land uses can go?
  • how should these land uses relate to nearby buildings and properties?
  • how tall and how big should develop be in a given location?
  • how should parking be dealt with?
  • how can the City optimize the resulting tax revenue?

…. and a number of other issues.

Then, those community desires will be translated into a set of clear and easy to follow regulations for developers to meet those standards in order to obtain approvals for their project. Ideally, in this way, the needs and desires of neighbors can be written into the law and residents can rest assured knowing that those needs will be met with any and all new development as a condition of its approval.  Developers will know what the standard is, that they need to meet it, and if they do, they can develop their project without multiple and uncertain steps of public deliberation and discussion.

Watch the video below to hear a City of Albuquerque planner describe some of the reasons that this zoning code reform is being pursued:  

The Event

Diverse teams of neighborhood residents, bankers, brokers, urban designers and city planning staff were assigned an example property to develop together. In the process, everyone learned more about what it takes to actually develop buildings, the relationship between rents in Albuquerque and what they enable a builder to build, and some of the trade offs desired between neighborhood residents, architects, bankers and developers.

A mix of perspectives around the table struggling with the current zoning code’s many pages, numerous references, years of accumulated requirements. Sometimes, with the current zoning code, conflicting rules and dictates prevent a building from being built in Albuquerque.
A mix of perspectives around the table struggling with the current zoning code’s many pages, numerous references, years of accumulated requirements. Sometimes, with the current zoning code, conflicting rules and dictates prevent a building from being built in Albuquerque.

What We Learned

  • The vast majority of the 50 participants had lived here 10+ years and felt the new draft code was easier to use than the current one and the IDO was moving in the right direction.
  • Details still needed to be discussed as to how different parts of the code would effectively address things like neighborhood parking as densities were increased along main corridors.
  • Some developers thought that the zoning code was not realistic about parking. Another developer responded by saying “that’s ok because it’s better to let the market dictate how much parking you decide to build instead of the city”.
  • “We ask neighbors and developers and decision makers and new Albuquerque staff to learn together. What is our system today, how do we get things done, do we have a lot of leverage to affect development?” – Local developer
  • “We would like to send recognized neighborhood representatives at least every other year to be trained… so they know that ‘these are the times you can be most effective’ and how to positively influence the development process.” – City planner
  • “We worked closely… with other neighborhoods to turn San Pedro around and generate the kind of atmosphere that encourages redevelopment and reinvestment, and this is a big part of it… Neighborhood associations fear density, not so much because of the height… but the spillover of reduced parking requirements because they don’t believe that transit is actually going to attract the amount of trips that we say it’s going to.” – Neighborhood resident

What’s Next?

  • WHEN/WHERE:  Wednesday, September 21st, 5:30-8pm at the Convention Center in Downtown ABQ.  A working dinner will be served.
  • WANT TO PARTICIPATE?  We’re forming table teams composed of Developers, Brokers, Bankers, Design Professionals & Neighborhood Residents. The event is almost full, but if you’re interested, RSVP below and you’ll be notified whether they can still squeeze you in.
  • TO RSVP: Please email centralgood2great@gmail.com to RSVP or to ask questions. Note what perspective best describes you so table team rosters can be fleshed out: broker, banker, builder, neighborhood resident, or design professional.  Staff will follow up to confirm your participation and provide further instructions.

Read More About This Topic:

The Skinny on Healthy Neighborhoods: “People tend to get more exercise… in neighborhoods with four characteristics.”

The Next Big Fight Over Housing Could Happen, Literally, In Your Backyard

What are you reading? Email us articles you would like to share at centralgood2great@gmail.com.

Transit Oriented Development – What It Is, Why You Should Care and How You Can Learn More About It

We’ve come together as a community three times now around the question “How do we take Albuquerque’s Central Avenue from Good to Great?”  Over the course of three community action forums over 150 residents discussed over 40 different topics important to creating a Greater Central Avenue and among those, four broad consensus themes emerged, shown in the diagram below in red, broadly speaking they are: Justice, History, Development and Community.

Above are all topics raised in the action forums, with broad consensus themes in red
Above are all topics raised in the action forums, with broad consensus themes in red

In the coming series of posts, we will share information about events happening in Albuquerque that are asking questions at the crossroads of some of these themes and explore them together.

We’ll start with the question of how can Albuquerque develop and strengthen its built environment and increase the health and economic well-being of more of its residents?

Cities across the nation have had success in answering some of these questions by using a set of strategies called Transit Oriented Development or TOD.

What is Transit Oriented Development or TOD?

TOD is a type of community development that includes a range of housing choices, among a mix of other land uses (office, retail and/or other amenities) integrated into a diverse neighborhood located within a convenient walk of quality public transportation.

The bolded text highlights the important elements:

  • Mix of uses and amenities
  • Integration with existing, walkable neighborhoods
  • Within a convenient walk of quality public transportation

What is an example of TOD? What does TOD look like?

Pictured below is the recently completed Imperial Building in Downtown Albuquerque:

imperial-bldg

It is a great local example of transit oriented development: affordable housing, a grocery store and other amenities located a block away from the Alvarado Transportation Center, which is served by 20+ bus routes, the Rail Runner, multiple bike routes and a walkable street grid that connects to other destinations and amenities downtown.  

Thought this specific development includes affordable housing, all housing in TOD developments is inherently more affordable than suburban development because of the relationship to transit. According to data analysis from the Center for Neighborhood Technology, if people in households do not have to drive as often or ideally at all, households can potentially save $1,000’s per year on transportation costs. That savings can be used to pay for other essentials including better housing, education or healthier food.

If you believe the scale of the Imperial Building is something that would not fit into a typical Albuquerque neighborhood, have no fear! TOD can come in many different shapes, sizes and scales. Typically, TOD needs to be a minimum of two stories to be truly successful but it’s amazing what can be squeezed into a two story building. For example, this is a two story TOD development from California:

small-scale-tod

As you can see, it still includes a mix of housing and commercial, as is found in the Imperial Building, but it is all being done at a neighborhood scale.

How Can Existing Development Integrate With Transit?

Though the Imperial Building is a more traditional example of TOD, there are other existing developments in Albuquerque that could be more effectively integrated with existing and proposed transit services.

Presbyterian Hospital, located on Central and I-25, in Albuquerque, NM
Presbyterian Hospital, located on Central and I-25, in Albuquerque, NM

For example, Presbyterian Hospital, which is located on Central Avenue, has thousands of customers and employees. A majority of these people likely drive to the hospital currently but what if more people took the existing Rapid Ride buses and the proposed Albuquerque Rapid Transit to get there? What if employees and customers collectively reduced their transportation costs and used that saving for other things? What if the hospital didn’t have to provide as much parking? How would that impact their operating costs?

There are many reasons people drive to their destinations in Albuquerque instead of taking other modes. The barriers to riding transit are numerous. What if we found out what those barriers were? 

Strategies for Encouraging Ridership

In other cities across the country, some of which are similar in size and shape to Albuquerque, there are a variety of strategies which have effectively been implemented. Here are some examples:

  • Identify and remove barriers to using transit – as we noted above, there are many reasons that people don’t use transit. What if one of those reasons is as simple as providing a safe walking route between an apartment complex and a transit stop?
  • Systematically improve the built environment and walking routes to and from transit stops and residential neighborhoods, among others
  • Work with employers to offer transit passes and other benefits to employees to make transit ridership more convenient and cost effective – for example, UNM, CNM and Presbyterian Hospital, among others, offer free and/or reduced price transit passes to students and employees. But how do people find out about these programs? If more people knew about these programs, would they use them? What incentives exist for people who use these programs?
  • Identify and remove barriers to increased ridership – what reasons do people have for driving, for taking transit or for using other modes? Do people utilize certain modes by choice and utilize others because it is the only option they have?

How Can I Learn More About TOD?

Below are some links where you can find more information about what TOD is and how and where it could work in Albuquerque:

What Is TOD? – Description of what it is, potential benefits, additional in-depth resources with more specific applications of TOD

Transit Oriented Development – Resources: Documents, reports and assessments with information about specific transit oriented developments around the nation

CivNet – What It Is and How to Use It

At the action forums, we promised to help everyone who has participated so far to continue participating. For this reason, we have written an explanation of how to use CivNet, which we have chosen as an ideal platform to continue our in-person conversations online.

One of our action forum participants, Charlie Wisoff, is the creator of this unique and useful web platform. It was designed with the explicit purpose of getting people to take action on issues that they care about. Over 1000 passionate people in the Albuquerque area are already using it to make change happen in our community. Therefore, it is a natural place to continue conversations that were started at the action forums.

What is CivNet?

If you learn the best through video, below is a tutorial video on how to use CivNet + more info about what CivNet is:

How to Join CivNet

If you already have a CivNet account, scroll to the bottom of this article to see existing CivNet “Action Plans” which relate to topics discussed at our action forums.

Otherwise, here is a step by step breakdown of how to make an account on CivNet and plug into what is already happening on there.  

Below is the home page, which can be found at beta.civnet.com:

Click on this image to sign up for CivNet!
Click on this image to sign up for CivNet!

If you don’t have an account yet, you can make one with a single click by tying in with your existing Facebook or LinkedIn account. If you don’t like that option, making an account only requires a username, email address and password. Sign up by clicking the link highlighted by the red arrow at the top of this image. Once you’ve signed in, you will arrive on this page:

home page civnet

Once here, start by clicking “Find Action Plans”, highlighted by the red arrow in the above image. After clicking there, you will find this page with a list of various “Action Plans”:

issues page civnetIn order to find the various topics and “Action Plans” which align with your interests, click on one of the drop down menus, highlighted in the above image with the red arrow.

For example, if you clicked the “Issues” drop down menu, then clicked “Transportation”, this would show you all the transportation related “Action Plans” on CivNet. This happens to include the group we have started, “Greater Central Ave”, highlighted with a red arrow in the image below:

issues transportation

If you want to join the group, just click “Join”. Once you join, click on the title of the group to check it out.

What I Can Do in an Action Plan + How to Make a Call to Action

Part of the reason we picked CivNet as a platform was because the meat of the site is the “Call to Action” buttons we’ve highlighted below. CivNet gives every user the ability to both make a “Call to Action” and call others into action on issues they care about.

In addition to creating “Calls to Action”, “Action Plans” also allow you to make general comments, post resources such as Word documents or images and most importantly connect with other people who are interested in the same topic.

In the image below, we have highlighted where on the “Action Plan” the “Call to Action” features can be found:

civnet greater central

We haven’t taken any actions yet but we invite people to do so!

What does it look like when people make “Calls to Action”?

Let’s visit a more active “Action Plan”, the “Improve Public Participation” action plan. Below, you can see some of the actions they have called for people to take:

public participation action plans civnet

With “Calls to Action”, you can decide how many people you would like to participate and reach out to specific individuals for participation. You can also set an end date for the Calls. For example, perhaps there is a meeting that you want people to attend on a specific day. When you create the Calls, there are many different ways to customize them to suit whatever needs you may have.

That’s the basic breakdown of CivNet! If you want more info about how to use to the site, click the CivNet logo in the top left corner and go back to the home page. There, you will find blue boxes which contain more help to get you started using CivNet:

home page additional help

If you have any additional questions about CivNet, the folks running it are always happy to assist. Email them at help@civnet.com.

Existing CivNet Action Plans Which Relate to Topics Discussed at Our Action Forums

Another reason we picked CivNet was because of the fact that many of the issues discussed at our action forums already have related “Action Plans” on CivNet.

Below are existing CivNet action plans which relate in some way to the conversations which took place at our action forums. Each of the listed “Action Plans” are links which will take you directly to “Action Plan” itself. Other “Action Plans” on CivNet can be found by using the “Search” function at the top of any CivNet page. Keep in mind that not all of these groups are active and these do not come close to representing all of the ideas discussed at our action forums. This is simply a way to help get you started on the site:

If you DO like CivNet, please invite your friends to action plans by clicking the Facebook, Twitter and “Invite Others to Join” buttons, which can be found below the name of each “Action Plan”. They look like this:

Click here to share the Greater Center Ave CivNet page with your friends on Facebook
Click on this image to share the Greater Center Ave CivNet page with your friends on Facebook

Our Land, Our Health: The Connection Between Land Use & Health

We continue to see events emerging in alignment with the conversations that were had at first three action forums.

Two of our action forum conveners, James Aranda and Matt Cross-Guillén of NM Health Matters, are leading a series of workshops which will explain the connection between land use and public health and give people the tools they need to better understand how to influence land use in their neighborhoods.

The first round of workshops will be next week on August 9th and 16th, 6-8 PM in the South Valley and the second series of workshops will be held on August 15th and September 1st, 6-8 PM at La Mesa Presbyterian Church.  For more specific details, see the flyer below:  

Click the flyer to enlarge it
Click on the flyer to enlarge it

James notes that “Our Land, Our Health is a multimedia training and online toolkit that helps people better understand the connection between land use policy and health. The goal of Our Land, Our Health is to give community members the tools, information and resources to engage in the decision making process so they can advocate for policies that will result in healthier communities.”

At all three of our action forums, James led conversations about meaningful community engagement. In the upcoming “Our Land, Our Health” workshops, people will be a taught about topics including:

  • History of what land use is and how it came to be
  • How land use and zoning is connected to and impacts health
  • What YOU can do to get involved and impact land use in your community.

You can also keep up with information about the “Our Land, Our Health” initiative on their CivNet page LINKED HERE.

On a very related note, the City of Albuquerque is currently revising the zoning code which dictates land use across the city! It is a once in a generation opportunity for you to weigh in on how you would like the city to be built and designed. There will be a hearing on this plan, which will include opportunities for public comment, on August 25th, 1 – 8 PM, Council Chambers, 1 Civic Plaza NW, Albuquerque, NM 87102. For more details on upcoming events related to this process and for more information, CLICK HERE.


Interested in attending the “Our Land, Our Health” gatherings? For more information and to RSVP, please email Matt at mattcg@bcplacematters.com.  

Looking Back and Moving Forward – A Reflection on the First Three Action Forums

  • 130+ participants
  • 40 different yet related discussion topics
  • 25+ organizations inviting people into the process
  • Positive, constructive collaboration, all around taking Central Avenue and its surrounding neighborhoods from “Good to Great” over the next 10+ years…

These were the results of the first three action forums convened.

Let’s take a deeper look at what happened over the course of these meetings.

Our third action forum on Saturday, July 9th at the Los Volcanes Senior Center
Our third action forum on Saturday, July 9th at the Los Volcanes Senior Center

What is the Greater Central Avenue initiative?

It all started with a question: if the Central corridor receives over two billion dollars in investment over the course of the next 10 years, what do we want that to look like?

There is also a bigger picture question: what would be the best way to take the Central corridor from good (its current form) to great?

This two billion dollar question came from a study conducted by the Center for Neighborhood Technology for the City of Albuquerque, linked here, that accounted for two assumptions:

  1. The ART project – a multi million dollar mass transit and pedestrian safety and accessibility project: http://www.brtabq.com/FAQ.
  2. ABC to Z – a once in a generation revision of the zoning code. The zoning code dictates what can be built where and this revision will shape the city’s built environment for a generation or more: http://abc-zone.com/.
Click on this image to learn more about the ABC to Z process
Click on this image to learn more about the ABC to Z process

This is all based on the fact that other cities who have done both of these things at the same time, as articulated in the CNT report, have seen these dramatic financial impacts.

However, cities that have generated these development and community benefits organized themselves to do so. Left on its own, a zoning code and transit improvement won’t get the desired benefits to all–that only comes with 1000’s of individual actions that take advantage of and build on these two major initiatives.

In our invitation, we asked a question about a future few in Albuquerque have started to consider: what can the next ten years look like if we wanted to maximize the benefits our studies show could be achieved? Where is the energy now, what do people most care about and what are they willing to do about it?

What is Open Space Technology? Why Did We Use This Method for Our Action Forums?

Before we get into the answers which emerged from the question we asked, a brief word about Open Space technology and why we used it as a meeting methodology.

Based on community feedback we heard about previous public engagement processes, we chose a meeting method that was different. The open space method, which you can find more info on here, is participant led, evolving and open. The responsibility for outcomes rested with each of the participants.

We asked people what they cared about in relation to this theme and what they wanted to do about it. This technique isn’t for everyone. The theme resonated with people who wanted to find others who were interested in similar things and start taking actions–small, large and everything in between. Every participant so far has already taken a large action: showing up to one or more meetings and engaging in the process.  

Answers in the Form of 40 Different Topics

At the beginning of each of our sessions, we asked the above question and at each session, people quickly rose from their seats, wrote down their topic. Each topic was then posted in different parts of the room and people interested in discussing each topic would gather around those people and those ideas.

Topics were far ranging. Some of the more popular examples, which arose at two or more session, included:

  • The pedestrian environment on Central – how to make it safer and more pleasant
  • Public participation and community engagement – how to make it better
  • Housing – building affordable housing, mixed use development with housing and retail, etc.

A full list of topics can be found here: https://greatercentralave.com/action-notes/

At each of the sessions, people gathered and discussed the various topics enthusiastically in groups both large and small. Conversations started early and went late. When conversations would end early, some people from those conversations joined other groups still talking. Ideas and topics cross fertilized in an organic and productive manner. It was inspiring and fruitful.

A visual example of the organic conversational process observed at the action forums
A visual example of the organic conversational process observed at the action forums

Every session ended with every participant gathering together in the circle that we started with. We would go around the circle and everyone would give a short reflection on their experience that day before leaving.

What Happens Next?

Many of these conversations never ended. As people walked out, they continued to discuss the various topics and already, we’re seeing actions emerge from the open space sessions. small conversations have been convened by participants on topics from enhancing public engagement, redeveloping vacant land both large and small, and targeted bike improvements… but these are just the actions we’ve heard about.

Some of the conversations have migrated to CivNet, a locally designed web platform for folks who want to take action on topics they are passionate about. Join the Greater Central Ave CivNet page here: https://beta.civnet.com/action_plans/118.

These stories of what people are doing as a result of these conversations will be shared here in this space on the Greater Central Ave website. Please share this story and this process with anyone who you think should be involved. After all, it is up to all of us in this community to answer that two billion dollar question: what can YOU do to take the Central corridor from good to great?

John Anderson – Small Scale Spaces for Living and Entrepreneurial Work

At the end of our last open space meeting on Saturday, July 9th, we promised to keep everyone informed of future events and gathering which grew out of the open space process.

On this note, we have some exciting news: one of our coveiners, Susan Deichsel, is organizing an event that grew out of conversations which happened at the Open Space sessions. On Wednesday, July 27, John Anderson will be speaking at Rio Bravo Brewing Company, located at 1912 2nd St NW, at 6 PM. All of the details can be found on the flyer below:

Click on the flyer above to open it in a new tab
Click on the flyer above to open it in a new tab

How does this event relate to the conversations we had at the first three Open Space meetings?

Looking at the Open Space meeting notes, which can be found here, there were six discussion topics which directly relate to the types of ideas that Mr. Anderson shares:

  • 1. Mixed Use Development with Retail Under Residential
  • 2. Identifying & Developing TOD Nodes Along Central Ave
  • 3. Density
  • 25. Create and Preserve Affordable and Low Income Housing
  • 34. Smart Economic Development and Growth

Susan notes that “John explains in his talks that becoming a developer doesn’t always require a huge amount of capital. It’s a much lower barrier of entry than people think.” She goes on to say that “you don’t need the financial knowledge you think you need to develop on a small scale. Working class individuals can use John’s techniques to build, finance and rent out buildings in their own neighborhoods.”

Why Should I Care?

One of the themes frequently heard at the open space sessions was that people want to preserve the history, culture and identity of their neighborhoods while encouraging responsible and appropriate development. One way to accomplish this is to help people learn how to develop themselves, in their own neighborhoods. When an outside developer comes in, it is challenging to get everyone on the same page regarding what the ideal type of development looks like.

If developers are actually residents of the neighborhoods where they are proposing development, the preservation of the given neighborhood identity would be more likely and easier to accomplish. Even if residents do not end up becoming developers, a knowledge of the development process can help neighborhoods more effectively negotiate with developers and attract development in their neighborhood that works for both the neighborhood and the developer.


This event is filling up and quickly and thought it is free, it is RSVP only! If you are interested in attending, please email Susan Deichsel at susan@endion.co.

If you can not make this session, learn more about John Anderson and other people involved in incremental development by clicking here.

Please comment below with questions and other thoughts!