City at the End of the World*
By V.B. Price
University of New Mexico Press
231 pages, $17.95 (paper)

Review by Wally Gordon

"Albuquerque, for my money, is one of the stupidest wasts of human endeavor on this earth. It occupies a magnificent site between the Rio Grande and the Rockies. It pays no attention whatsoever to either, but simply goes on sprawling and spewing across the countryside in an endless repetitive pattern without relationship, without identity."

This quote is from The American Landscape by Ian Narin, written in 1965 before the city's opportunities for spewing and sprawling expanded to include the West Mesa, Rio Rancho, the eastern slopes of the Sandias and Manzanos, southern Santa Fe county and all of Torrance and Valencia counties.

It is but one of numerous gems in a rare book on Albuquerque, City at the End of the World, by veteran North Valley editor and columnist V.B. Price. The recently published volume has just been the subject of a program on Albuquerque public TV station KNME that did not begin to do it justice. The TV version made it seem picaresque, superficial and nostaligc.

In fact, Price has turned out an anguished analysis of the deterioration of a city and a culture that he profoundly loves.

Throughout this slender volume he is struggling to balance the potential of the metro area for grace, beauty, uniqueness and diversity with the reality of sprawl, commercialization, homogenization, suburbanization, historic and cultural destruction, and uncontrolled development driven by land speculation.

What Price has written is a brief summary of what the good, the bad and the ugly have contributed to our lives in New Mexico. On the one hand, Price is a man who cares passionately about the city and utterly lacks any natural bent for cynicism; on the other, he is a man who refuses to don blinders and has the courage of his convictions. The result could be described as a journalist's version of tough love. Here are a few samples:

–"The designers of a 1989 campaign by the Convention and Visitors' Bureau had so little to recommend it that they resorted to putting up billboards with a suggestive, hand-scrawled message that read 'for a good time call,' followed by the bureau's phone number. No one thought it was in bad taste to equate the city with a brothel."

–"Many people who choose to stay in Albuquerque do so because of their devotion to the myth of New Mexico. But, unfortunately, the world at large is oblivious to Albuquerque's mythic virtues."

–"Albuquerque is a city of islands–islands of culture, geography, language, politics, occupation and economic class. People hole up here; they don't communicate. There is no common denominator, no sense of civic identity that all can share. The metro area is so balkanized, and so full of military and other transients and newcomers, that decision makers work virtually without public supervision, until they infringe upon the interests of one faction or another."

–"Those surveyed found Albuquerque to be hostile to outsiders and complained that it had a bad effect on their children....The place gives you a sense of being isolated, and it's more antagonistic, in a quiet way, than other large cities to people transplanted there from one of the northern states or the East. Making friends of your neighbors is no easy task."–A 1987 Associated Press report on a poll of Albuquerqueans.

–"People who love New Mexico expect Albuquerque to be inspired by the ecological sensitivity of the pueblos and the functional grace of Hispanic towns and churches. And, of course, they are continually disappointed."

And, with Price's pangs of personal anguish palpable on the page:
–"One can't help but get emotional about the place, especially if it's threatened. many people stay in Albuquerque because they cannot imagine living without the sense of freedom that the land instills. It's also true, however, that the central New Mexican landscape around Albuquerque is one of North America's most demanding urban setting. Its aridity and openness, its humbling immensity can be liberating or it can drive some people crazy. Albuquerque has always been a tragic leader among cities in suicides per capita."

There are almost no books about contemporary New Mexico's largest city. The Zimmerman Library at the University of New Mexico, the state's best collection, has only a handful, and they are either historical or out of print. Thus Price's attempt to come to grips with the reality of this peculiar city is enormously valuable. Newcomers and old-timers alike should read what he has to say, and then ponder it.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Wally Gordon has reported for the Baltimore Sun and the Albuquerque Journal.)

This review originally appeared on May 15, 1994 in the Artesia Daily Press.

*The new edition of the book has been retitled Albuquerque: A City at the End of the World