My Turn

Opinion: Taos is ‘a flower quickly fading’

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For 14 years, I have been an outdoor landscape painter in Taos. Those of us who live in Taos, and love to visit Taos, do so because it is not like anywhere else.

What a relief to escape the gentrified cities, with corporate “brand” big box stores that are identical in every city across the U.S. Do we want Taos to become yet another “Anywhere USA?”

When people visit Taos, (or live here), it is a wonderful feeling to be part of a town that has history and character that reflects our wonderful Spanish and Native American cultures; a sort of “Museum Village.”

That brings some new “developments” to mind, like the proposed four-story Holiday Inn, right across the street from the historic Sagebrush Inn, that is not even close to full much of the year.

This was once a community that supported the people who live and work here, and affordable living places could be found. That flower has faded with Air B&B’s soaking up all of the once affordable, long-term rentals. There are more and more buildings getting higher and higher, looking more corporate, eating away at the historic look and feel of Taos.

Everything has a “Brand,” an image that defines it, and Taos is losing its “Brand.”

As an outdoor landscape painter, I see the wonderful places to paint that I have long loved, becoming occupied with hostile people and “Keep Out” signs with wire fences. What has happened to the gentle spirited folks who once welcomed and valued painters to capture and share the beauty of Taos?

So many empty, commercial buildings, dot our main street, Paseo del Pueblo, as empty carcasses, like the old Applebee’s Restaurant, and even on our main corner of Paseo and Kit Carson Road. It does not present a positive impression to our visitors, and makes Taos appear economically depressed. Countless residential homes – so many lying empty – that could be turned into lovely, renovated, real “Taos” homes, yet so many, especially newcomers, prefer to build new homes, void of the character of our historic village, and soaking up more and more lovely open meadows that make Taos a delightful place to live and visit. I propose an incentive from our town planners, to make it more affordable and appealing for people, both residential and commercial, to bring back to life the many foreclosures and empty carcasses of buildings that clutter our beautiful village, and only gentrify our historic town, rather than helping to keep it the beautiful flower that Taos is.

I am also starting to see big plots of land being set up for “yet unknown” developments.

I am hoping that sensitive and esthetic planning will be implemented here with the “big picture” in mind, not quick-money for town planners and developers, but a long-term vision to keep Taos a place that people want to escape to, for residents and our many visitors.

Taos is too beautiful and rare to allow it to be “a flower quickly fading – here today and gone tomorrow.”

Chrisman is an artist in Taos. 

My Turn

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Steve Milstead

Unfortunately, Michelle is awfully close to the mark. Taos IS economically depressed - though most of the status quo doesn't want to talk about it. In addition to all the empty business spaces right in the shopping/tourism core of town, many would agree the traditional 'drivers' of tourism - wintertime skiing and summer outdoor activities - are simply not generating the revenues they once did.

Some important factors Michelle missed are the increase in crime and the dramatic increase in drug addiction and drug trafficking (mainly heroin). While these are problems all over New Mexico, the increases over the last two years in Taos and Rio Arriba counties are quite noticeable - and a serious blight on the community's reputation. A significant lack of mental health and rehabilitation services (relative to need) only exacerbates these issues. Taos has always attracted a "quirky" population of residents - a population in which mental illness and drug usage are all too common - but dedicated resources for an appropriate level of care and rehabilitation are seriously lacking.

An effective solution - in my opinion - might be to level a high tax on outside corporate entities wanting to do business in Taos. The 4-story Holiday Inn Express (God, those things are ugly) is a great example of a national corporate enterprise moving in to the community without really contributing much to the cost of soft infrastructure that would insure Taos' future. If the community cannot sufficiently address the problems of mental healthcare, homelessness, crime and drug addiction, then it's attractiveness to tourists will continue to erode. Taos DOES depend a great deal on drive-in visitors, but those visitors live within a radius where the nightly news is reporting things like serial murders, heroin trafficking, tragic "disappearances" and suicides.

It's just my opinion but, I suspect, the news of a homicidal maniac nearly escaping from the Rio Arriba County jail does have a chilling effect on drive-in tourism. And the incidents of news about things like that cannot possibly help the economic or cultural situation in Taos.

Ciao fer Nao,

Steve Milstead

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