By Jim Vaughan, Senior Fellow.
I am writing this post in Santa Fe – one of America’s great and unique cities – and wondering, as I do every time I visit, why I don’t live here.
As with most visitors, I come to enjoy the art and history of the place and for fine dining! But as a career chamber executive and now Senior Fellow at Market Street, I spend a good part of each visit thinking about how other cities could learn from Santa Fe.
Lesson No. 1 – Santa Fe, early on, realized the importance of place and determined to capitalize on being Santa Fe. A landmark urban plan was adopted in 1912, the year of New Mexico statehood. The plan set out, in firm language, to protect the city’s streets against change that would affect their appearance. Fast forward 45 years, a group of citizens “imagined, drafted and lobbied for the landmark urban-planning guidelines that have kept Santa Fe looking like Santa Fe,” writes Jason Silverman in Santa Fean magazine.
Lesson No. 2—Santa Fe has proven that arts can drive economic development. From early beginnings as an art colony in the first decade of statehood, “Santa Fe has grown to be the third-largest art market in the country, after New York and San Francisco—remarkable for a city of only 68,000,” writes Stacia Lewandowski in New Mexico magazine. On Santa Fe’s Canyon Road, there are more than 130 art galleries, studios and restaurants. The city of Santa Fe recognized Canyon Road’s uniquely beautiful combination of shops, studios, and homes in 1962, when it designated the Road a “residential arts and crafts zone.”
Lesson No. 3—Santa Fe cares for and invests in public spaces. The city’s historic, cultural and geographic center is the Plaza at the end of the Santa Fe Trail. Visitors and residents enjoy Cathedral Park next to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. The newest and most popular park, the Railyard, opened in 2008 after years of planning and with significant public input. The Railyard is home to a vibrant mix of tenants such as the Farmers Market and Artists Market, Hispanic cultural center, and an eclectic mix of restaurants, performance art spaces, shops, and contemporary art galleries.
Lesson No. 4—Being a state capital has its advantages. The Museum of New Mexico includes the History Museum and Palace of the Governors, Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Museum of Art and Museum of International Folk Art. And while it’s not a gallery, the State Capitol features a spectacular collection of art by New Mexicans assembled since 1991 and valued at more than $6 million.
Santa Fe’s commitment to planning and preservation throughout the 20th century is not without controversy. Architects and real estate professionals, for example, sometimes feel stifled by the design board and the “Santa Fe Style.” But the city’s neighborhoods have succeeded in avoiding being overrun by McMansions, view-obstructing structures, and development patterns that are indistinguishable from “Anyplace USA.”
They don’t call it “The City Different” without reason.