What counts as Downtown anyway? 

Trying to pin down a nebulous term with few points of agreement
Most people would happily call this Downtown. On the flip side...
...most people would say this is definitely not Downtown. But in between, we have nothing but shades of gray. (Photos by Free ABQ Images)
Given the name of the publication you're reading right now, we'll go ahead and assume that somewhere in the deep recesses of your mind is a rough working definition of what exactly constitutes Downtown. Maybe it's more of a feeling than exact lines on a map, but no matter: You likely use this definition all the time. It's a pretty key part of the linguistic you.

But it turns out that - useful though the term may be - "downtown" is a bit like "love" and "God." The second you try to nail down any specifics, someone else comes along with a whole different idea.

So it goes for our own Downtown Albuquerque. 

We put out a survey last summer asking for precise definitions of Downtown and the reasoning behind those calls, but the responses were literally all over the map. Here's a sample of five ideas:
Some people, it turns out, think that the north end of Downtown is Marquette, while others think Mountain or Menaul would be better borders. Some include the Glass Graveyard in Barelas and the grazing livestock of West Old Town in the big Downtown tent, while others figure the honor should be reserved for places where three pedestrians on one sidewalk does not count as a crowd. Nobody included Nob Hill, the Sunport, or the shopping area around Coors and Montaño, but that is about where the agreement ends.

We can report, however, that whether you survey DAN readers (perhaps not a scientific sample because they could be subtly indoctrinated with our own conception of Downtown every morning over coffee) or random residents from the heights and East Mountains, two loose factions tend to emerge.

Group one basically follows a "big buildings" theory: If you see it on the green screen behind TV news anchors or on skyline postcards, the reasoning goes, you're looking at Downtown.

"It seems like the core that is primarily business or high-density residential," said Alert Reader and Duranes resident Maria of her Downtown boundaries

"I think of Downtown as where the shops and businesses are," added EDo resident Patricia (map). "As such we have a very very small Downtown compared to other cities."

City Councilor Isaac Benton, for his part, seems to fall into this camp. At a December press conference marking the opening of the Zocalo Building at the southwest corner of 4th and Coal, he placed the project in the larger context of Downtown development while hastening to add that the Barelas site was "not technically Downtown." 

Group two, on the other hand, has a more expansive view of Downtown, generally defined by I-40, the river, Chávez/Huerta, and I-25 (map), though Broadway is often substituted for I-25 as an eastern border.

The reasoning behind those maps is also more expansive.

Northeast Heights resident Deborah reckoned that if you could comfortably walk somewhere from the big buildings, it counts as Downtown. (She used to live in Huning Highland, so has some experience on that front.) For Raynolds resident Nicki, the walkability of the greater Downtown neighborhoods themselves relative to the rest of town made them part of the club.

Some said they drew the expansive map for aspirational reasons: "We gave a little room for expansion of coolness," wrote Steve and Christy, who divide their time between Downtown and Nob Hill.

Raynolds Resident Bob made a case for architecture playing a role: "Presbyterian is often referred to as 'Pres Downtown' to differentiate it from the other Albuquerque locations. And the new Titan development across from Presbyterian is decidedly urban," he noted.

History even played a role. Barry, who owns property in Barelas, took to the easy-walking-distance theory but used both the Downtown core and Old Town (the original Downtown, after all) as the center points, which allowed him to include spots on the west side of the river on his map.

The whole business is certainly subjective, not least because it also depends on where you are at any given time. Take the cases of Vinaigrette, near Central and San Pasquale, and Hot Yoga, which is near Central and Elm.

"They'd both be 'going Downtown' if you were coming from outside the area, despite not being in the 'Downtown core,'" Jordon reckoned. "Particularly for people who don't live close to the Downtown or UNM areas, the wider Central corridor is sometimes spoken of as an entire thing, which it is to an extent."

The official view, or lack thereof
You might reasonably suppose that the city (or some other vaunted institutional entity) would have officially defined Downtown at some point. After all, they have some related experience: Over a decade ago, they took another amorphous geographical area called the War Zone, branded it the International District, and gave it precise borders.

The city also meticulously defines neighborhood boundaries as part of recognizing specific neighborhood associations. (One of those areas is literally called the Downtown Neighborhoods, but it stops well short of the skyline-type buildings in the core. West Downtown, a district and business group, also has well-defined geography.)

But when it comes to Downtown proper, the city's definition depends on what it's trying to do at any given time. Thus, the Downtown Public Safety District is a very different box than the Downtown Modified Free Fare Zone and the area laid out in the Downtown parking map. For zoning purposes, it sketches out a "Downtown Center" that is ever-so-slightly different than its "Downtown Area."

You'll get no consistency from institutions either. Visit Albuquerque's map of Downtown attractions includes places in South Broadway and Wells Park, but the zoo (though not the Wheels Museum) is in the Barelas category. The Greater Albuquerque Association of Realtors uses the I-40, river, Chávez/Huerta, and I-25 definition for its median sale price calculations, but Downtown ABQ MainStreet sticks closer to the big-buildings theory for its arts and culture mission.

Media organizations are likewise all over the map. They will frequently use neighborhood names, but last summer the Journal called the area near the Juan de Oñate statue at the Albuquerque Museum "Downtown." So did Vanity Fair

And should you be hoping that a publication called Downtown Albuquerque News might be able to shed some definitive light on the matter, we're sorry to report that you will again be disappointed. We generally try to recognize both factions, alternating between describing an undefined "Downtown core" and also-undefined-but-definitely-larger "greater Downtown," the latter of which can either be the combined 87102 and 87104 zip codes, a semi-official coverage zone that we routinely ignore anyway, or something else entirely.

That's a long way of saying that - for this one at least - you're on your own. Just do the best you can, and keep in mind that it may even be necessary to entertain multiple definitions at the same time and change them for evolving circumstances. 

"My definition is based on a general idea of a Downtown community," said Lea, a Barelas resident who picked Broadway, I-40, the river, and Chávez/Huerta for borders. "But if someone said, Let's go Downtown to party, I think: Central Avenue between Broadway and 8th. Gold Street would have been included when there were cool bars on Gold."
Downtown Albuquerque News covers greater Downtown, which we generally define as the area created by I-40, the Rio Grande, and the railroad tracks. We publish weekdays except for federal holidays. If someone forwarded DAN to you, please consider subscribing. To subscribe, contact us, submit a letter to the editor, or learn more about what we do, click here. If you ever run into technical trouble receiving DAN, click here.
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