There went the neighborhood

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By Richard Hannemann

Back in the day, it was determined that Los Alamos High School needed a top flight Latin teacher. Thing was, Mrs. Fries had left the east coast for somewhere in the Southwest and no one knew where “somewhere” was going to be.

An all-points bulletin was put out to find her across five states. Well she’s driving along a road in Colorado and gets pulled over by the local sheriff. “No, ma’am,” he said. “You haven’t done anything wrong but could you come down to the station.” She did, the Feds showed up and offered her the job teaching here.

This is what I would call “agressive recruiting.”

I got to thinking about this while trying to get a prescription at Smith’s. Used to be you could get a “scrip” at Hilltop Pharmacy serving Northern Community, Anderson’s serving Western Community, or LA Drugs serving Downtown and Eastern.

Each of these neighborhoods also had a grocery store and full auto service and repair. You would have loved Los Alamos in the ’60s.

Many businesses of that time were sole proprietorships and you had to know someday owners would retire. You would think that policies and plans would have been in place to recruit the next generation of young entrepreneurs. Nope. The focus became “downtown.”

(Remember the bridge from the Mesas to Downtown?) For many it still is. There is this myth that Los Alamos is urban, can be urban, or, at least that urban solutions to urban problems will work in Los Alamos. That Los Alamos hasn’t any shopping alternatives is due to “urbanizing” Los Alamos by centralizing everything to the downtown.

So between a policy of centralization, reducing competition and choice, and a policy of stagnation and decay from total reliance on the lab, we are where we’re at today.

The solutions proposed are more of the same — a big box in the downtown, government offices in the downtown. If people have only the choice of shopping in a monolithic downtown or shopping off the hill, consumer flight is the predictable result. And for all the schemes and dreams Main Street remains a driveway into a parking lot.

Perhaps, instead of re-vitalizing downtown we should re-vitalize Los Alamos by restoring the neighborhood model; expanding our productive economic base beyond the Lab, or Science City; re-populating Los Alamos with young entrepreneurs and their families and support start-ups as they get established.  

It won’t be easy, quick, or cheap (though it would probably cost less than the Trinity and Airport Basin projects). And it won’t happen of its own accord.

We’re going to have to recruit like crazy.

Richard Hannemann

Los Alamos