In March 2010 a Your Town workshop was held in Taos, New Mexico. In the high desert at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the northern part of the state, Taos has a history that draws on Native American, Spanish colonial, and ranching and railroad heritage, as well as the arts. Since 1900 Taos has attracted painters, sculptors, writers, and other artists to this remote, beautiful, and almost mystical setting.
The New Mexico Main Street program, in cooperation with the Friends of New Mexico Main Street, the Taos Arts & Culture District, the New Mexico Economic Development Department, and the University of New Mexico Design and Planning Assistance Center, proposed a workshop on design issues in downtown Taos. The specific design issues focused on Taos’ historic plaza, gateways into the city, and strategies for making the downtown more pedestrian friendly. The New Mexico partners worked assiduously to pull together a workshop in the spring in order to engage University of New Mexico landscape architecture studio students.
The workshop brought together 35 community members who had not typically worked together in the past. They included business owners, artists and gallery owners, elected officials, planning staff, educators, and long time residents. In addition, 12 University of New Mexico landscape architecture students assisted workshop participants with the design problems and helped put ideas into graphic format.
The workshop involved a series of presentations by University of New Mexico faculty members as well as special talks by local artists and community leaders. Unlike other Your Town workshops, the Taos workshop was a charrette. Groups of participants worked on one of five related design problems: the main plaza, a downtown pedestrian network, infill and reuse of buildings, Kit Carson Street and its placitas, and Ladoux Street, which is filled with galleries and shops but is tucked away from the plaza and hard to find. The laboratory – downtown Taos – was right there, so participants were able to walk the town to study the problems at hand. A lot of good energy was applied to design, with concrete results that translated to a much more active plaza, a new network of pathways and sidewalks, proposed infill development, and connections to streets that radiate off the plaza.
After the workshop, the University of New Mexico students used the design solutions as the basis for further design work. Working with the community, the students expanded on the workshop designs to produce a full-color booklet, Weaving Together Past, Present and Future: Identifying Opportunity within the Arts & Culture District of Taos, NM. The book provides detailed drawings that elaborate on the ideas generated at the workshop as templates for implementation.
-Excerpted from Your Town: Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design, Update, Winter, 2010