Last week I spoke with Ellen Berkovitch as she was researching this article about current efforts to create affordable housing in Santa Fe. Being featured (even briefly) in this article is a real delight, largely because of Ellen’s tireless and comprehensive approach–she solicits a lot of input and listens carefully to a diversity of voices.
The article is very thorough, and I wanted to share it, but I also wanted to riff a bit on a common refrain that showed up in our conversation and in the article itself. It’s an argument that I hear a lot in conversations about “retaining Santa Fe’s youth” and/or making Santa Fe more livable for people of all ages and backgrounds. I’ll call it The Jobs Argument.
When AHA was first forming, we encountered a lot of enthusiasm from a lot of people but we also got feedback that maybe addressing nightlife and the music scene was not the most important thing to work on if retaining young people was the goal. Specifically, people wondered if “the jobs question” wasn’t the more pressing issue, in that if young people can’t find a good-paying job, all the nightlife in the world won’t make them want to stay here.
That was in 2010, and I chalked a lot of it up to the post-recession conversation about jobs that was happening all over the country at the time. But the jobs argument came up again as we were lobbying for the nightlife task force in 2014. Nightlife sounds great, but wouldn’t nightlife just happen automatically if more young people could find good jobs? Do we really need to focus on nightlife specifically?
Now, through efforts like Creative Santa Fe’s Arts & Creativity Center project, which would build affordable live/work for artists (AHA is involved in this project, just to disclose that), as well as the El Rio concept put forth to the Planning Commission by developers last month, affordable housing has become a hot topic in the conversation of livability, young people, etc. Along with the usual enthusiasm that someone is trying to do something new, I’m hearing that familiar refrain. If young people can’t find a job, is even this housing affordable enough? Isn’t creating high-wage jobs what we really need to be working on?
Here’s my response to that, which has been developed with the aid of a lot of varied input over the years. Jobs are obviously important–critically important. But when the question becomes whether or not these other endeavors are even worth pursuing because they don’t focus primarily on jobs, I begin to lose faith in the conversation.
The issue of Santa Fe’s livability is a systemic issue, and addressing it requires a systemic approach. So while we do need to work to create jobs–and there are lots of people working on just that–we can’t mistake that to mean that other people shouldn’t also work on other pieces of the puzzle, like nightlife and affordable housing–especially given that there are real, identifiable deficiencies in Santa Fe’s nightlife and affordable-housing landscapes along with major barriers to addressing those deficiencies.
Right now we have a beautiful type of all-hands-on-deck situation, where people from all facets of our community are working on the livability question. That means that people with business and economic development backgrounds are working on creating jobs–bless them! But it also means that people whose careers focus on live music and events are working on addressing our nightlife infrastructure, and people with a background in land development are turning toward affordable housing projects.
You don’t have to be working on these macro-level planning issues in order to contribute. People who are good at making coffee are starting a hip new generation of coffee shops. People who are good at making food are bringing us a 21st-century restaurant scene. People who are good at making art are making the type of art that is changing Santa Fe’s reputation as an arts destination.
To dismiss any of these efforts as being “not the thing we should really be working on” is to miss the point about how change happens in our community.
If a music promoter wants to tackle community-level issues, should they go back to school to learn about economic development, so they can be the person to figure out the silver-bullet answer to the jobs question, once and for all? Or should they reach out from where they already stand, make their educated voice heard, lobby for nightlife solutions, and contribute to the formation of a nightlife task force?
Let’s all please be not only content but proud to be a piece of the mosaic rather than the person who has all the answers. The illusion of the “one best approach” can be wonderfully intellectually stimulating, but the people doing real work towards change in this community aren’t interested in this debate. They’re interested in doing something fresh, in elevating their game, in being part of the fabric, in working on the not-quite-right thing until they figure out what the totally-exactly-right thing is. They’re doing it now.
So, jobs enthusiasts! If you’re convinced that the most important thing to be working on is creating jobs, then please, please, please: Go out and do it. Create a job, even just one job, even a part-time job or a seasonal job, for another person or even just for yourself. See where that challenge takes you. Because most of us that are working on “not jobs”? We are creating jobs. Just a few. But they add up.
Photo by Ron Cogswell