When SA sent me a link to an article about a large “new urbanist” development planned for the suburbs of Albuquerque, I was instinctively skeptical. I like cities, personally, but I try not to let that cloud my judgment to much. Historical urbanism was driven by transportation technology (harbors, rail lines, but no cars) and present-day urbanism should be driven by scarcity of land but unless Albuquerque has changed dramatically since I was there three years ago they’re not exactly running out of space in New Mexico.
But this points perhaps in another direction:
Like other desert boomtowns, Albuquerque’s loosely planned sprawl is on a collision course with its finite water supply. Mesa del Sol will have an extremely efficient water system, and its dense, mixed-use design could reduce the need for more development on the city’s west side, where suburbs have consumed huge tracts of once-wild desert.
I’m not at all familiar with the details of western water management issues, but in general water rather than space is the scarce commodity in that region. If it’s the case that urbanism is a way of economizing on water, then it might have a promising future there. At the same time, we really really really really really really don’t have a free market in water in this country, especially in arid parts of the west. Consequently, water-related development decisions are rarely driven by straightforward considerations of trying to allocate a scarce resource efficiently.