Some Southwestern cities that are trying to increase walkability are finding that the modern metropolitan dream has its limits.
The downtown of this border town is not a particularly appealing place. Half-empty, 10-story buildings rub shoulders with vast parking complexes. Ground-floor retail spaces sport “For Lease” signs, and even the historical Kress department store is boarded-up. Half of the city seems dedicated to parking for cars, though the people who drive them are nowhere to be seen, not walking down the streets or sitting in the restaurants or drinking margaritas in the bars.
Looking around at this car-centric, nearly abandoned downtown, it may come as a surprise that in recent years the city has been feted for its urban-planning initiatives. The National Resources Defense Council has said that El Paso has “America’s Best Smart Growth Plan” and—perhaps more surprisingly—in 2011 the city won a Smart Growth award for its Plan El Paso, a 800-plus page comprehensive plan that aimed to make the city more compact, walkable, and transit-friendly. […]