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

Except for the addition of the first word in the title, a four-page preface and 27 pages of a new final chapter, this is a new edition of the book published in 1992 under the current subtitle. My review of that first edition commended a book "that comes from, and touches, the heart as well as the mind," and that judgement stands. My only real complaint was that the book didn't have a map, preferably a topographical map, of Albuquerque, and it still doesn't.

Based on Price's newspaper columns in the Albuquerque Tribune written before 1992 on the city's architecture and environment, the book emphasizes the city's geographic and cultural uniqueness, its potential future and some of the factors that endanger that future. In 1992, Price ended with a peroration: surely "a place that is the chosen home of so many different kinds of people from such a variety of cultural and occupational perspectives, surely such a place will not betray its individuality. Our struggle must be to reconcile the forces of global change with those of local rootedness, character, and well-being."

A decade later, he has come to feel "that Albuquerque as a unique place in the American West might be close to having its spirit broken by New Mexico's poverty, by 'globalized' and corporate design fads and junk architecture, by sprawl, and by the swamping of generic–i.e., interchangeable, placeless, design solutions."

While the new final chapter does point to hopeful signs–the revival of downtown, the innovative designs of new buildings on Pueblo lands, the new interchange linking Interstates 40 and 25, and so on–Price devotes more space to the problems facing the city and surrounding areas like Rio Rancho, at the mercy of developers. He points to ethnic and jurisdictional fragmentation, to making decisions by default and growth-oriented media–especially the Albuquerque Journal–as major causes of the current confusion about issues of development, in-filling the urban landscape and addressing crucial questions of water use.

The people do not want unlimited growth, but apparently no one in government or business is listening. Given the increasing recognition of depletion of water recources and the recurrent threat of oil shortages, they may be forced to listen. But not right away: planners are relying on diverting water from farms to cities. This short-term solution–the basis of the recent agreement on the use of Colorado River water in California and adjacent states–is sure to create still other problems.

By the end of the book, however, Price believes that "it's better to court the energy of naive optimism than settle into the inertia of cynical depression." But there is a great deal to be depressed about.

In my review of Steve Brewer's Trophy Husband elsewhere in this issue, I refer to the Albuquerque Tribune as a "stealth newspaper" because in my many trips to Albuquerque, I have never seen one for sale. Since Price's very sensible views appear in it, I wish it an exponential increase in circulation and influence.

–Robert Murray Davis

This review originally appeared in the Winter 2004 issue of Southwest BookViews.