|Greenest Cities: Santa Fe, New Mexico|
|Sunday, 21 October 2012 00:00 | Written by Marita Prandoni | Article|
Santa Fe just celebrated its 400th birthday as North America’s oldest capital city. Yet it is also among the most forward-thinking when it comes to ecology.
A walkable, bike-friendly town with a bus system that runs on natural gas, Santa Fe also has made great strides in its water conservation efforts. Add its initiatives to preserve open spaces and support green businesses, and you have a city that could decide to rest on its eco-conscious laurels. But Santa Fe has even greater ambitions.
Santa Fe’s aggressive Economic Development Strategy aspires to make it the “clean-energy capital of the US.” To this end, the city adopted the Sustainable Santa Fe Plan in October 2008, which emphasizes caring for future generations by acting on three intersecting principles: environmental stewardship, economic health and social justice. And the city is progressing smartly along this path.
The city is now implementing a pilot program of installing permeable pavement to reduce urban runoff and increase groundwater recharge. New land development and redevelopments of buildings, parking lots and roadways are required to design and build drainage systems that prevent storm-water runoff pollution.
A reservoir holds rainwater and snowmelt from the mountains just above the city where tributaries feed the 46-mile-long Santa Fe River. Depending on annual precipitation, the city draws from both surface and groundwater in varying proportions. For the first time in decades, the city worked with the Santa Fe Watershed Association last spring to release the river—transforming an otherwise dry, sandy streambed into a flowing river that supports riparian habitat and enlivens a cottonwood and willow-lined greenbelt through town.
And walking isn’t limited to just the city. The Santa Fe Conservation Trust has preserved over 30,000 acres of open space in Santa Fe and adjoining counties, protecting wildlife habitat and natural landscapes. Their volunteers maintain numerous hiking trails in Santa Fe’s foothills—as well as unpaved biking and equestrian trails.
Speaking of biking, there used to be a joke among locals that if you rode a bike, you were new in town. But that has changed dramatically over the past decade. Many city routes have designated bike paths with signs asking motorists to allow cyclists five feet from the road’s shoulder.
Santa Fe Trails, the city’s bus system, runs on compressed natural gas (CNG), which burns cleaner than gasoline or diesel. Even the mayor rides the bus. People using vehicles that run on CNG can also use the city’s fueling station.
Almost a year ago, Santa Fe became the northernmost destination for New Mexico’s Rail Runner, a light rail system serving a 101-mile corridor along the Rio Grande. The downtown terminal is located in the reinvigorated Railyard District, which bustles with a jumble of activity, including the farmers market, an African drumming studio, youth hub, museums, eateries and more. The new train offers inexpensive, green commuting for thousands of state government workers from points south as well as transportation for many Santa Fe residents who work in Albuquerque.
On the green business front, there is a burgeoning farmers market that gives small, local food and land-based enterprises access to local commerce. Santa Fe boasts many other environmentally conscious businesses such as green printer, Paper Tiger. [Paper Tiger is our site sponsor and offers a 15% discount to our readers. – Ed.]
The Santa Fe Alliance is an active Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) member. It’s a great resource for learning how to eat local, buy local and hire local, keeping 45¢ of every dollar spent circulating in the community.
Green Social Justice
Santa Fe partners with Homewise Inc. to provide low-interest loans to homeowners who want to install energy-efficiency upgrades to their homes. Homeowners who save energy are eligible for rebates from New Mexico’s largest utility company, PNM.
Although achieving its long term aspirations will require citywide adoption of even more green initiatives and technologies, Santa Fe is well on its way. And this is the kind of can-do community that doesn’t wait for pronouncements from on high. Many of Santa Fe’s best ideas bubble up from its engaged citizenry, providing even more reason to believe that Santa Fe will soon add to its rich, 400-year-old history the distinction of being known as the “clean energy capital of the US”.
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