Friday, February 16, 2007

Las Cruces' Worst Mistake

The hands-down worst mistake in Las Cruces history was the destruction of Main Street under the guise of "urban renewal."

"Urban renewal" was federal policy in the 60s, part of the big government social engineering mindset that began its rule then and is with us still. In the case of Las Cruces, the Federal Government was willing to pay two thirds of the cost of "renewing" the downtown area.

Here are a couple of post card images of Main Street, Las Cruces from the 1940s.


The justifications for the "renewal" of Main Street and surrounding area were the usual ones:

The businesses there were not doing that well,

The buildings were old and unattractive, some dating to the late 1800s,

And, of course, a wonderful urban utopia could be put in its place with businesses that would pay more taxes.

But the truth of "urban renewal" was never an urban utopia.

Instead, businesses that social planners didn't like, but had historical and organic roots, were replaced by businesses they "favored" and were willing to subsidize. Whether the new businesses would make money was a gamble -- the only firms that were certain to profit were those involved in the destruction of the "old" and the construction of the "new."

The plan that was adopted involved closing 7 blocks of Main Street and turning it into a "shaded" walking mall. The blocks on both sides of the mall would be cleared of all buildings to make that space available for new construction. Businesses and home owners that did not voluntarily sell in the cleared areas, or agree to renovations in the walking mall, would be removed by eminent domain.

Implementation of the plan began in 1968 and was finished in 1974.

The "renewal" area contained 160 businesses. 38 agreed to make the required remodeling changes and were permitted to stay. 122 did not and moved or went out of business.

A total of 84 families and 52 individuals lived in the cleared area and were forced to relocate.

Here you can see the "urban renewal" area shortly after its completion. Main Street has been closed and the streets on both sides now loop around it. The extensive empty areas, including the swath to the right of the loop (east), are "cleared" areas.

Here's a better view of the "front" (south end) of the mall:

As the photo makes clear, this was an extremely ugly design with very serious problems. There was absolutely nothing that was attractive to people driving by in cars. All you could see from the loop were the backs of the businesses, and in the walking mall itself, the low "shades" covered anything attractive in the buildings -- not that there was much that was attactive left, because the forced renovations had resulted in the historical storefronts being destroyed or covered with "modern" facades.

The mall was and is a total failure.

It destroyed Las Cruces' historical downtown heritage and replaced it with an ugly public space that no one wanted to visit.

Here's what the front entrance looks like today:

Here's what the inside of the mall looks like:


Recognizing what a horrible mistake the project was, the city is now removing the mall and restoring Main Street. But it's impossible to recover what was destroyed.

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2 Comments:

Blogger nativeluv said...

Isn't fantastic that there is now an organization that is dedicated to helping reverse the damages of that mistake? The Las Cruces Downtown Partnership works tirelessly to revitalize the Downtown Mall area and to return businesses and residents to that area. The reopening of Main Street should be complete in 2010.
If this group, led by Cyndi Fargo, had the help and support of the City of Las Cruces, the local businesses in Las Cruces, the community of Las Cruces, and the vendors of the Farmer's Market, the process would be completed much much sooner... Only if.... (sighs)

11:25 AM  
Blogger Retro_Kid said...

yes i know what you mean by the destruction of down town. i have done tones of research on how las cruces looked and i loved it!
i envy my parents for living here in the 50's! the down town buildings were so wonderful and if they would of kept them up the result would of been amazing today. seeing how modern building (i mean new york modern aka 2years ahead of new mexico) is all about old buildings being reconstructed and reused! unfotunetly ther is nothing we can do about that, but make sure it doesn't happen again.

-Did u know that the new high school will have no windows in the class rooms. Just the hallways will have windows. that's really sad because research shows students learn better with natural light. Not to mention the money they'd save!

12:38 PM  

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