Renia Ehrenfeucht, a professor who teaches about cities and urbanization, isn’t afraid to deconstruct the old adage often evoked by economists, real estate developers and city leaders — essentially that cities must grow and grow quickly, or they die.
Ehrenfeucht is the new director of community and regional planning at the University of New Mexico’s School of Architecture and Planning. She said Albuquerque must stop trying to be a Denver or Portland — cities that are known for quick growth and booming economies — and learn to grapple with slower growth in a thoughtful way.
“We look all over the country and some places are going to grow and some will lose population. That’s the nature of it. They say if you’re not promoting growth you’re giving up, and that’s wrong. We need to not think that way,” Ehrenfeucht said.
She said slow growth can create opportunity, and provide citizens time to reflect on what they want their city to look like in 20 years.
Ehrenfeucht grew up in the Los Angeles area and most recently, spent time as a professor at the University of New Orleans. She said she sees many similarities between New Orleans and Albuquerque.
“Like New Orleans, Albuquerque has this real sense of cultural richness and uniqueness of being local. When you’re here, you know you’re here and that really matters to people,” Ehrenfeucht said.
Also like New Orleans, she said, Albuquerque has lost some of its millennials as they’ve moved to other states for jobs and more opportunity.
Ehrenfeucht and her colleagues studied young professionals in New Orleans, interviewing them over five years. They found that those who chose to stay said they didn’t want to leave their sense of community behind.
“It was really having a connection and professional and friend network that caused them to stay. These were career-oriented people but they were making career tradeoffs that were worth it to them,” she said.
Still, as a planner, Ehrenfeucht said it’s important to understand why millennials are leaving New Mexico.
“We live in a mobile era where people move. But they should move because there are opportunities to move for part of their life, not because they have no option here,” she said.
She said many urban planners pay attention to attracting the creative class, but she believes solving the problem of New Mexico’s population loss has to be looked at through multiple sides.
“Cities are putting a lot of emphasis on policies that are really attracting people who are well off, rather than policies that are ensuring people who have fewer resources have access to education and health care. It’s about creating opportunities for everyone. As a state we want to make sure all kids get a good education and families aren’t burdered with high housing costs or can afford food,” Ehrenfeucht said.
By: Stephanie Guzman (Albuquerque Business First)
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