We Taoseños love our town.
We have a rich cultural heritage that dates back centuries, a spectacular location perched on a dramatic high-desert landscape, and friendly, creative (and sometimes outright kooky) residents who give this place a distinct personality.
Our community has worked hard to maintain a strong connection to our past. But we also face significant challenges for the future. The economy has sputtered in the wake of the Great Recession. Blows to the construction industry and the closure of the Questa mine left a lot of locals with few employment options. About 21% of our neighbors are living at or below the poverty line, and our young people are leaving at an alarming rate, largely due to a lack of opportunities.
Most Taoseños have concerns about the impacts of growth on Taos’ tradition and small-town feel. Unfortunately, we have yet to build consensus about what steps we can take to address our economic challenges while paying reverence to our history. Too often, our discussions about development erupt into polarizing, unproductive debates that divide us rather than unite us.
We can, and should, do better.
For half a century, Taos’ Historic District, the heart of our community, has been at the epicenter of this dilemma: How can we manage development in a way that protects our historic character, supports local businesses and grows the local economy, and contributes to the quality of life of those who live here? We have tried to address these questions in the past with varying degrees of success. We think now is a great time to revisit this conversation, in a productive and inclusive community discussion and with the clear intention of turning our ideas into actions.
The Town Council has directed the Planning, Community and Economic Development Department to work on a highly participatory and community-driven strategy for the historic district that it’s calling Strong at Heart. The Mayor and Council recognize that they’ve sometimes struggled to engage with the public in a productive way, and they are committed to improving how the Town interacts with its residents.
The product of this community dialogue will be the Taos Downtown Strategy which will:
- Identify what Taoseños love about their community and why that matters.
- Develop a shared vision for our downtown heart and the role we want the downtown to play in our prosperity and quality of life.
- Identify solutions for ongoing community challenges of pedestrian and cyclist safety, declining downtown economic vitality, transportation and parking congestion, and protection of historic character.
- Define what type of development is appropriate for downtown, where that development should happen and what areas should remain as open space, all in ways that are consistent with the community’s values.
Ultimately, this project is about taking action. The result of the project will be a document that summarizes:
- Taoseños shared community values.
- Guiding principles, goals, and recommended strategies for the Downtown.
- An implementation action plan.
Following the completion of the Downtown Strategy, the Town of Taos will adopt the results into a formal plan or policy that can be used by decision makers to make development and capital investment decisions in the downtown. More fundamentally, town leaders hope this project will serve as a model for how to have constructive, community-led conversations about very challenging topics facing our community.