Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza hasn’t always been on the radar as a great place to be. But in April 2015 a transformation began: Southwest Airlines and PPS partnered with individuals and organizations including the DowntownABQ MainStreet Initiative, the Albuquerque Convention Center, and students at the University of New Mexico, to turn the vast and relatively empty site into a place where locals can connect, express themselves, and build community. The collaboration between these organizations has been greater than the sum of its parts: together, they have designed and installed moveable furniture, organized dozens of events including ABQ Food Fridays, and bolstered management capacity to ensure that activity in the plaza can become self-sustainable.
The launch event, held the following October, marked the establishment of the Friends of Civic Plaza. Thousands of Albuquerqueans gathered to enjoy their new favorite place. Most importantly, the community has come to feel at home at Civic Plaza. “Up until this project,” explained Lola Bird, Executive Director of DowntownABQ, “I don’t think the community knew that we could own something.”
The plaza has become a catalyst for downtown improvement and the heart of a network of destinations, including a new multi-purpose arena that will be built in one of the neighboring Convention Center buildings. Expanding on the momentum of the Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community project, the mayor has announced new plans for an extensive, community-driven renovation of the site. This story is emblematic of how Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper strategies can work: collaboration, community, and creativity can make just a little push go a very long way.
"The problem is, we've got so much momentum, and now we have to manage it. I'm getting hit up every day by somebody who wants to do something there."
– Lola Bird, Executive Director of Downtown Albuquerque
Many great public spaces have grown out of communities resisting development. It is the evolution from opposition to proactive visioning - helping to create, finance, and manage public spaces - that often makes the opposition successful. Congress Square, and the community around it, are forging this story of transformation.
Mayor Bill de Blasio caused quite a stir around New York City yesterday as he floated the idea of tearing up the pedestrian plaza in Times Square. This statement was the culmination of several days of debate centered around predatory panhandling and the square’s growing number of “street performers.”