Friday, May 20, 2005

Santa Fe Plaza

One of most positive things about New Mexico cities is the central plaza, a place that has traditionally served as the center of town life. Of course over the last 100 years or so, these plazas have been significantly transformed. In few New Mexico cities are they in fact still public spaces that serve as town centers. They are often either just another form of commercial space, sometimes to the point of having been paved over, or they serve as town tourist centers, such as in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. That said, the Santa Fe plaza still manages to have a function as public space that people use in multiple ways. It's the place where punks hang out. There's a tamale vendor in one corner. Under the Palace of the Governors on the north side of the plaza is where Indians come to sell their wares to the tourists. Bill Clinton was in Santa Fe during the election season and spoke on the plaza, so it still has some political function as well.

But increasingly, and even in the time I've been here it seems, the city government is trying to place increased control on the use of the plaza, thus undermining its already diminished role as public space. For one, I see less and less punks and alternative kids using the plaza. Now that could be positive I suppose if they are harassing people, but I've never seen that happen. In any case, getting rid of that group works to sanitize that space even more than the tourist economy already does. At least the punks give a sense of reality to the plaza, that not everything is controlled and for sale.

Plus, the city has started planting grass in different areas of the plaza and roping those areas off so that people cannot use them. This again undermines the area use as public space since a portion of it (maybe 1/4 of the space) cannot be used. What the grass adds, I have no idea. They even use sprinklers to water the grass, something you rarely see anywhere in Santa Fe and something that really undermines the city government calling for water restrictions. The grass is not particularly aesthetically pleasing because not only can you not use it, but it's in very small patches. The whole point of grass seems to me to be somewhere cool and refreshing to sit on in the summer but not in Santa Fe.

I suppose it just bothers me that there are so few public spaces today that have not been privatized (i.e. shopping malls or the sidewalks of Las Vegas for example) that increased limitations on public space in a place that has served in that function for several hundred years now is greatly disturbing.