Green 'New Urbanist' development rises in Albuquerque suburbs


One way to explain how a Manhattan-sized mesa may become the Southwest's largest green development is to point to its past success as an apocalyptic wasteland. In 2008, a touch of twisted metal transformed part of Mesa del Sol, a 12,900-acre expanse south of Albuquerque, into a robot-ravaged Los Angeles for the movie Terminator Salvation. The film's backers chose this spot for its empty land and government subsidies -- the same things that, years earlier, attracted developer Forest City Covington.

If Forest City's plans are fully realized, the production facility that hosted Terminator will anchor a "New Urbanist" community for 100,000 people. Like other desert boomtowns, Albuquerque's loosely planned sprawl is on a collision course with its finite water supply. Mesa del Sol will have an extremely efficient water system, and its dense, mixed-use design could reduce the need for more development on the city's west side, where suburbs have consumed huge tracts of once-wild desert. Still, "sustainable" development in the arid Southwest sounds quixotic at best, an oxymoron at worst.

In this uncertain economy, nowhere else in the West is a New Urbanist project of this scale moving forward. And yet, this March, Forest City broke ground on Mesa del Sol's first neighborhood. The developer's persistence is thanks in large part to its unusually close alliance with local government. But to understand that, it's best to take a tour.

Patrick Adler
Patrick Adler
Apr 28, 2011 01:34 PM
Really good stuff. It will be interesting to see if the city's economic base will be able to support such a development.
William Petersen
William Petersen Subscriber
Jun 01, 2011 11:49 AM
While New Urbanism has many high-minded goals and some successes as addressing the negatives and banality of typical suburban sprawl. It is nothing more than a continuation of the same failed land-use strategies of suburban sprawl except they add front porches, sidewalks and narrower streets. Walk through the Prospect New Town development on the outskirts of Longmont and you realize it's simply another city-edge development only slightly denser than it's greenfield development neighbors.

Forest City has managed to turn many urban & brownfield sites into great redevelopment projects like D.C.'s Navy Yards and Denver's Stapleton Airport. Stapleton happened because of heavy buy-in from the city and state in remediating the brownfields of Stapleton and a desire to redevelop the land already located in and near well-established residential neighborhoods of Stapleton, Park Hill and Montview to help stitch the fabric together.

This proposal for Mesa del Sol comes off as wishful thinking that 100,000 people will magically drop anchor in a sprawl development so far removed from the city core of an otherwise sprawling metropolis. Albuquerque doesn't suffer from a lack of urban vacancy and underdeveloped properties but a lack of will to redevelop inward. I see proposals like this and realize all the missed opportunities to reinvest in the cities themselves and foster smarter density instead of pretending that calling a greenfield exurb 'New Urbanist' makes it something other than it isn't. Yet another example of the out-dated and outmoded land planning principles called sprawl.
gary fitzgibbon
gary fitzgibbon
Jul 18, 2011 04:00 PM
W.P. you should trace back the ownership of some of the Mesa Del Sol lands........
gary fitzgibbon
gary fitzgibbon
Jul 18, 2011 04:01 PM
and then wonder what water all these people are gonna bath in.........