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for people who care about the West

City at the end of its rope

  Anyone who has lived in Albuquerque, and sworn a curse upon the city and all its planners, visitors and inhabitants while broiling in traffic, and then eaten chile rellenos at sunset while watching the Sandia Mountains turn pink, knows that love and hate, beauty and grit, stand shoulder to shoulder in this desert city.

Longtime Albuquerque resident V.B. Price knows this, and writes in Albuquerque: A City at the End of the World that the city is an “endangered place.” Not simply because half a million people are overwhelming an arid valley, but also because of an “absence of love.” Always wanting to be something bigger, something better, something more modern, Albuquerque hasn’t embraced — or capitalized on — its Spanish and American Indian heritage like Santa Fe, its neighbor to the north. “We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, in the midst of cultures and traditions as fascinating as any in the world,” he writes. “I’m as puzzled by our willingness to dilute our identity as a New Mexican city as I am by anything ... we squander our landscape, our open spaces, our water and folks slap themselves on the back for having a good year in real estate.”

Reminding readers of the city’s water wars, dirty politics and lost chances, Price faces a reality most of Albuquerque’s residents and politicians deny: “The overall picture of the last ten years tells a sad story of lost promise, lost opportunity, and failed leadership that amounts to a metro-area that’s grown in a state of anarchy — undisciplined, imprudent, unrestrained.” Despite that, Price tries to end on a positive note: “I still believe,” he writes, “it’s better to court the energy of naive optimism than settle into the inertia of cynical depression.

Albuquerque: A City at the End of the World
by V.B. Price, illustrated with photographs by Kirk Gittings.
199 pages, paperback: $17.95.
University of New Mexico, 2003.