The City of El Paso (that is you, the taxpayer) is spending millions, or tens of millions, or hundreds of millions, of dollars to revitalize downtown. But that’s like bailing with a sieve.
Deserted downtowns have been haunting US cities since the beginning of the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, 95% of offices were occupied. Today that number is closer to 47%. Employees’ not returning to downtown offices has had a domino effect: Less foot traffic, less public-transit use, and more shuttered businesses have caused many downtowns to feel more like ghost towns. Even 2 1/2 years later, most city downtowns aren’t back to where they were prepandemic.
Not unlike how deindustrialization led to abandoned factories and warehouses, the pandemic has led downtowns into a new period of transition. In the 1920s factories were replaced by gleaming commercial high-rises occupied by white-collar workers, but it’s not clear yet what today’s empty skyscrapers will become. What is clear is that an office-centric downtown is soon to be a thing of the past. With demand for housing in cities skyrocketing, the most obvious next step would be to turn empty offices into apartments and condos. But the push to convert underutilized office space into housing has been sluggish.
The City of El Paso isn’t doing what’s good for the citizens of El Paso. The City of El Paso is only looking after some influential real estate speculators who happen to own office buildings in downtown.
Read the whole story at BusinessInsider.com.
I wrote the passage below for Brutus’s blog maybe five years ago before the post-Plandemic world. Looking back at it, the ideas expressed then are still relevant for me, at least, but there is also positive change underway here.
“I have come to believe that there is not a one-size-fits-all philosophy…for city-building but there is an organizing principle, that of focus – what is it you want to optimize, because you can’t optimize everything or you risk losing focus? An Aspen or a Carmel or a La Jolla optimizes ambience and services for tourists and wealthy residents, but not for their teachers, nurses and salon workers who cannot afford to live there. Houston optimizes opportunity – housing, employment and business -but at the cost of the environment, urban beauty, and convenience in that you have to get on a freeway for an hour to do anything. There’s no free lunch.
So, what is El Paso trying to optimize and does it make sense in the context of its capability? To me it seems that we tell ourselves it’s all good while we go about the real agenda of trickle-up economics, i.e., optimizing wealth creation for a donor class of investors, developers and builders at the expense of average homeowners, who see little in the way of job-creation and even less tax base offset for their contribution. It’s no wonder UTEP graduates leave their home town for greener pastures elsewhere. It is why El Paso grows, but doesn’t deepen and prosper.”
I think this is changing for the better now or, at least, my involvement with UTEP and its One Water Forum over the last two years has exposed me to a cadre’ young activists and scholars that were not visible to me previously. Kathy Staudt’s Community First Coalition and Rich Wright’s candidacy for District #8 are further examples of a current of change here that was almost invisible five years ago. It is not as hopeless a situation anymore as it felt to me five years ago.
I keep asking myself, why am I still here and not back on Whidbey or Vancouver Island with my ecovillage and change agent friends? Maybe, like Rich, I’m getting too good at El Paso for my own benefit 🙂