Youthful Flexibility and Enthusiasm for a Grassroots Development

18 Sep

By Arianna Sullivan

Students and teachers alike on the campus of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design are often curious about what it was like to grow up in Santa Fe. My answer is much like that of any person who spent elementary, middle and high school in this town whose population has grown from just below 60,000 to almost 70,000 in the two decades that I have lived here: it was a mixed bag. The problem: there really just isn’t that much here for young people to do that is affordable and easily accessible for locals.

Zane Fischer, an entrepreneur dedicated to design that makes people think, and Daniel Werwath, a self-employed housing and community development consultant, are both part of the solution to this problem. Both are involved in MIX Santa Fe, a networking tool for entrepreneurs and organizations in Santa Fe that holds events for what Werwath calls “uncovering the unknown.”

The most recent development on MIX’s list of things to be uncovered is the Santa Fe RE:MIKE project, dedicated to the redevelopment, of the St. Michaels Drive corridor between St. Vincent Regional Medical Center and the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. MIX will host an event on September 20, which will jumpstart an entire weekend aimed at brainstorming how to make a more local-friendly, affordable, sustainable St. Mikes. “Essentially,” explains Werwath, “we are throwing out a bait to see who bites.”

RE:MIKE is a project that is, so far, made up mostly of brainstorming.

“The only traction that the project really has so far,” Fischer explains, “is that the city has picked it up.” He refers to the support of Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, several District councilors, and the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, which is no small feat for a ‘grassroots project’ like RE:MIKE. More than a concrete plan and funding, Fischer stresses the importance of re-drawing the land-use codes in the area, in order to allow “as much flexibility in future planning as possible,” so that the corridor can actually develop “organically,” according to the residents’ needs rather than a presumption of what would make a good plaza. Fischer would like to see a new St. Michael’s plaza developed from the ground up, with input from local entrepreneurs, small start-up businesses, and the residents in the area, who, he says, “are mostly young people living on this side of town without facilities.”

Fischer and Werwath have already begun this integral involvement with the young people who live near the St. Mike’s shopping strip—in fact, on the college campus next door. Two Santa Fe University graphic design students, Fernando Gaverd and Pablo Byrne, are already contributing design suggestions for the new plaza that could develop right across the arroyo from where they go to school. One short visit to their lab where they meet twice a week to work on designs for RE:MIKE reaffirms the importance of the flexibility in grassroots city planning that Fischer advocates.

Both students admit that, if it weren’t for their involvement in RE:MIKE, they would never go to the shopping strip just next to the SFUAD campus. Still, they rifle through their computer files enthusiastically, eager to show me their designs for crosswalks and directional arrows to be printed on the sidewalks in the new plaza. There are several versions of each, because, “the first designs were too complex,” Gaverd explains. “We wanted to take this language,” he says, showing me a page with Native American rug designs, “and use it in our designs.” However, the two encountered “a whole world of regulations, that we didn’t even know existed,” Gaverd tells me, as the two compare the original version of their crosswalk design to the simplified version which they hope will meet city crosswalk standards.

Both students, who came to SFUAD through a foreign exchange program from Mexico, are optimistic and excited about the RE:MIKE initiative. “We’d like to consider ourselves a part of Santa Fe,” Gaverd tells me, and indeed they are taking part in the city as if they were locals.