Recently, I arranged to videotape an interview with David Green, the internationally known urban planner from Perkins and Will. P&W is the architecture firm recruited by the University of New Mexico’s Robert Frank and engaged primarily by UNM but also by the city to help chart our course to the creation of a vibrant new urban technology corridor.
The PW framework calls for a synthesis between science and research entities and the city, county and others. Together, science and the city, we will give birth to a third new thing; an innovation ecosystem known in urban planning circles as a “Rain Forest.”
This Rain Forest environment has been shown to generate an inordinate amount of creativity and economic activity. The Rain Forest’s center will be a 7 acre site at Broadway and Central.
The P&W framework proposes open space and startup amenities designed to foster interaction; mixing business, science, art and play. It proposes re-arrangements of some streets downtown, new mini-neighborhoods, glass atriums and new buildings. It’s a big and exciting idea.
As we put together video footage, here’s what I learned from architect and urban planner David Green, about making this vision a success:
1. Understand, it can absolutely happen. Green spoke with remarkable confidence – and he’s involved in planning and creating these Rain Forest environments all over the world – about what we could have, what Albuquerque already has. His vision was crisp, clear and singular. But, first, as I understand it:
2. Walls have to come down. UNM and our three national labs and Albuquerque, the county and the private sector have to share a common vision – and work for it. This is a merger between left brain and right. Cross pollination. We’re creating a third new thing.
Success depends on bringing the vibrant intellectual, academic and technological assets of the university and our labs into the feisty, multi-cultural world of city streets, neighborhood voices and bootstrap startups.
3. Density is key. Density is required to fuel interactions between people and ideas. Density, in this new downtown ecosystem of innovation, ideas and investment, is the coin of the realm.
4. Outsiders are crucial. To create density we need to keep our best and brightest here. And we need newcomers; small companies, young talent, investors with bright ideas, people who need room to grow. We have it.
5. We need to tell our story. Its about bringing science and technology to town in a healthy, lively, creative environment being created in the high desert of New Mexico. Come and check it out.
This month has seen the city and the science side of our Rainforest equation spring into view; each with a new web site, explaining what’s happening – to their own audience, in their own way.
There are different names and ways of describing our new ecosystem. Different platforms, stages, logos and language. This makes marketing our vision to both our community and outsiders difficult. We lose the big idea, what investors and newcomers want to see; a Rain Forest. A third new thing.
And it does not help us to keep our own focus. And then proposed projects like the sprawling, density defying south Albuquerque Santolina Development gain a foothold it should probably not have.
We all need to speak the same language, sit down at the same table and do what Green did. Be crisp, clear and concise about our intentions to create another kind of Albuquerque. We’re turning economic development inside out, creating an environment where entrepreneurial spirit is infused with education and co-operation replaces and competition as a driving force.
If we’re vague in the presentation of our vision, vibrant and multi-dimensional as it is, our innovation corridor runs the risk of losing its defining factor and its allure.
The Rain Forest, like innovation itself is about teamwork – just as parenting is a two person job. We need to be driven by the big idea; the Rain Forest is our baby.