alibi online
Free Will AstrologyAlibi's Personals
 V.19 No.25 | June 24 - 30, 2010 


City Uproots DIY Median Project

Ben Lowney with a decorative pyramid he stationed in the median outside his home. The city will remove the xeriscaping and ornaments he installed a decade ago to put in landscaping and an irrigation system.
Eric Williams
Ben Lowney with a decorative pyramid he stationed in the median outside his home. The city will remove the xeriscaping and ornaments he installed a decade ago to put in landscaping and an irrigation system.

Albuquerque once paid Ben Lowney around $60,000 for a public art sculpture near Los Altos Skate Park. But this month, the city told Lowney he’d have to remove the statues he made for free and installed in the median near his home.

When Lowney moved into a converted warehouse at Yale and Avenida Cesar Chavez a decade ago, he says there weren’t many plants in the area. So he xeriscaped the 12-foot by 100-foot median outside his live/work space, and he’s maintained it ever since. A few years later, the prop master dragged home some leftover steel from a movie project and welded it into three-sided pyramids. He snuck out at 3 a.m. one morning and guerilla-installed them in the median. “That was five years ago,” he says. “I haven’t had any flack. My rebellious self was disappointed. I was like, What? I didn’t even get a nasty letter from anybody.”

The notice came two weeks ago. Lowney got word from the city that he had 30 days to dismantle his median. Then he got a call from a contractor who said they’d moved the project up: He had just 24 hours before it would be bulldozed, Lowney says, and the sculptures carted off to a city yard. Ten medians are being beautified between Yale and University on Avenida Cesar Chavez, according to Michael Riordan, director of the Municipal Development Department.

So Lowney called his city councilor, Isaac Benton. The councilor arranged for a stay of execution and set up a meeting between Lowney and Riordan. The resolution: Lowney has removed the sculptures, and the city will dig up the plants and give them to him. After the median is relandscaped, he will apply to the adopt-a-median program to re-establish his sculptures and plants.

“Never has a neighborhood picked out the xeriscaped option.”

Michael Riordan, director of the Municipal Development Department

Lowney points out that his plants don’t require water. He adds new ones every year and waters them for only the first month. The city will install an irrigation system for high-efficiency, low-water vegetation, Riordan says. Though the Municipal Development Department can’t offer an estimate of how much each median costs, spokesperson Mark Motsko says the city spends an average of $500,000 per mile.

Councilor Benton says trees will be better than the low-growing plants Lowney established. “We get a lot in the way of shade and comfort from trees,” Benton says.

This isn’t the first time the department has run into people who’ve fixed up barren medians themselves. But it is the first neighbor that wasn’t happy to get rid of the burden and let the city handle it, Riordan says.

The department would prefer that people don’t take it upon themselves to landscape medians, he adds. It’s risky working in the road, and there are visibility rules to consider.

Municipal Development spokesperson Motsko explains that before beginning a project, the department confers with the neighborhood, offering prototype choices. And Director Riordan says there is a xeriscaped version that uses no water. “Never has a neighborhood picked out the xeriscaped option,” he adds. Uniformly landscaped medians are easier to maintain for city crews, he says, which reduces long-term operating costs.

But why does everything have to look so generic, Lowney asks? “Do we need to be Phoenix? I grew up in Portland, Ore., which is what people use as a sort of city template. The cool parts of that city were made by funky artists who went out of their way to make their neighborhood nice.”


Today's Events


Ten percent of sales between go to this local organization providing food, clothing and toiletries to homeless citizens.

Monthly Meeting of the Mind and Brain: Jumping to Conclusions at North Domingo Baca Multigenerational Center

Body Movement and Isolation at Hiland Dance Studio

More Recommended Events ››

  • Select sidebar boxes to add below. You can also click and drag to rearrange the boxes; close using the little X icons on each box. To re-add a box you closed, return to this menu.
  • Because you are not logged in, any changes you make to these boxes will vanish as soon as you click to another page. If you log in, the boxes will stick.
  • Latest Posts
  • Web Exclusives
  • Recent Classifieds
  • Latest User Posts
  • Most Active Users
  • Most Active Stories
  • Calendar Comments
  • Upcoming Alibi Picks
  • Albuquerque
  • Duke City Fix
  • Albuquerque Beer Scene
  • What's Wrong With This Picture?
  • Reddit Albuquerque
  • ABQ Journal Metro
  • ABQrising
  • ABQ Journal Latest News
  • Albuquerque
  • NM and the West
  • New Mexico FBIHOP
  • Democracy for New Mexico
  • Only in New Mexico
  • Mario Burgos
  • Democracy for New Mexico
  • High Country News
  • El Grito
  • NM Politics with Joe Monahan
  • Stephen W. Terrell's Web Log
  • The Net Is Vast and Infinite
  • Slashdot
  • Freedom to Tinker
  • Is there a feed that should be on this list? Tell us about it.