Marketing and Community: Santa Fe

KAREN WALKER

Many of us have looked at our own community and wondered at its changing face. Usually it is outside influences that bring about change. But what is it that inspires outsiders to become interested in a community in the first place? The answer is marketing, or the selling of some idea or virtue of the area. There are generally three kinds of marketing: unintentional marketing; marketing internal to one's own community and region; and external marketing, directed to a populace unfamiliar with local customs and values. Each of these kinds of marketing has had an impact on the community I know best: Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Santa Fe, "the city of the Holy Faith," is the oldest non-Indian settlement in the Southwest, having begun its existence as the northernmost capital of Spain's New World in about 1610. By 1812 it had become the northern capital of Mexico with greater and freer trade, which enhanced Santa Fe's reputation as a commercial center. The city plaza formed the junction of the Santa Fe Trail from Missouri and the Chihuahua Trail from Mexico. Development of Santa Fe as a trading center occurred through an accidental combination of geographical and political realities. The marketing carried out at that time was of the unintentional type.
Later, under United States occupation, other competing trade routes opened, and Santa Fe became relatively quiescent. In fact, during this territorial period, New Mexico and Arizona suffered from a lack of marketing of their qualities for statehood so that acceptance into the union in 1912 was predicated upon the forfeiture of the majority of state lands to public control. In this vein John Caughey pointed out that "in the studied judgment of their peers, Oklahoma had too many Indians, New Mexico too many Spaniards, Utah too many Saints, and Arizona not enough of any sort of people to be entrusted with statehood."1
For most of the twentieth century, the community of Santa Fe changed gradually and only through a mild and, again, unintentional form of marketing – word of mouth and, sometimes, pure chance. An example of unintentional, yet accidental, marketing was a trip from Boston to California undertaken in 1919 by two sisters, Martha and Amelia White, in an open touring car. They had planned to see an eclipse of the sun on the West Coast, and their route took them through Santa Fe. Amelia White was captivated. She decided not to leave and proceeded to purchase many acres in the historic east side of the city. Subsequent division of this land became one of Santa Fe's first significant "developments." These parcels were not marketed in any current sense of the word, but slowly became available to neighbors.
In the early- to mid-1900s word of mouth was the other sort of unintentional marketing, a subtle method in that it attracts persons of like mind and interests. For example, artists and photographers wrote home of the qualities of the light and air. Writers spoke to friends about the quiet, the open spaces, the opportunity for reflection and the appealing climate. This unintentional marketing led to a very gradual influx of new residents who had an appreciation for Santa Fe's values and customs. But by the late 1960s and early 1970s marketing gradually changed from unintentional to purposeful internal marketing, that is, marketing to one's own society.
At this time the community of Santa Fe was still sharing its qualities in a gentle way. Although it had long been an art center, the number of galleries could still be counted on one hand. Most artists sold their work privately or not at all. The open sociability of the populace was remarkable. Communication was not determined by income or status or background, but by a relaxed sort of community interest. In the fall of 1970, alongside the Acequia Madre, I watched a wizened Hispanic lady engage in enthusiastic conversation with a tall, long-haired blond youth. This happy image stays with me still. In many other parts of the United States at that period in history, each person would have made the assumption that the other had nothing to offer. "There are values there in neighborliness and accessibility," said Lewis Mumford.2
In the downtown or plaza area, practical consumer needs were being met by pharmacies, hardware stores and boot shops. Boutiques had no niche in Santa Fe in 1970, nor was there any serious sign of self-conscious spending. In fact the town was almost "seedy," with a sense of benign neglect, as if other endeavors were more important. New Mexico's severance tax (a tax on products severed from the earth, such as oil, gas, and uranium) was yielding public funds to be spent throughout the state and so there was no major marketing effort to attract extra revenue through development and tourism.
Throughout most of the 1970s marketing in Santa Fe was done not by the community, but by local developers, building for local or Southwestern buyers who were already ccomfortable with the lifestyle and architecture of Santa Fe. These projects resulted in the city's first condominiums, low profile and almost hidden, as they blended with the landscape. Individual home building still remained in harmony with the undulations and colors of the land, showed respect for neighbors, and avoided architectural statements of self-importance. My nephew's comment upon his first visit to this community was, "Why are all the houses made of Play-Doh?" This was his wonderful perception of the rounded edges, the soft forms of construction. As Mumford said, "These abobe houses ... blend into the landscape ... they're not ugly, they're not disfigurements."3
During the 1970s, national media attention to Santa Fe began to increase, but in the form of news reporting. A newspaper article would respond to some type of artistic excellence, such as a review in the San Francisco Chronicle of the opera. National Geograpbic and other magazines noted the purity of the air, the antiquity of the religion, and the grandeur of the geology. These articles were not marketing Santa Fe as "fashionable," but simply reporting positive features.
As the 1980s approached, the national media changed their tone, and began encouraging external interest. The New York Times and Women's Wear Daily began to write of Santa Fe as a "trendy" place. One gentleman phoned me from the garment district of New York requesting that I purchase some property for him–anything–sight unseen. Santa Fe was the place to be. I refused, and when he later discovered that snow fell here in the winter, he asked why I hadn't told him that right away. He decided instead to invest in real estate in Florida!
This new level of media attention was no longer simple reporting, but a form of touting that encouraged out-of-state developers. One of the first, a Texan, believed that Santa Fe needed a downtown commercial building of significance, or at least of massive proportions. He engaged in internal marketing within the community and region in a determined search for local business tenants. His strongest marketing strategy was lobbying the Historic Design Review Board, which finally accepted a structure suited neither to the community's sense of scale nor to its aesthetics. The structure became known locally as the "Ugly Building" and later was as "Ugly #1." However, this developer, like most other Southwestern developers, did not seek to transplant concepts into the region allowing for an occasional error of scale or style. And, because these developers shared with the inhabitants many elements of custom and culture, they marketed internally, within the Southwestern culture. As Anita Gonzales Thomas says, "These were the people who ... wanted to blend in with what was here, people who really loved the culture."4
The next and more critical approach by developers was from the East Coast, from outside Southwestern culture. They came to Santa Fe because the national media had declared it "chi chi" and a lucrative area for development, not because they had a strong affinity for the community. The eastern developers had the need to transplant, to simulate and to recreate in Santa Fe their accustomed pleasures and protections. Because these transplanted elements could not flourish in Santa Fe without a transplanted population as well, the developers put their energy into external marketing beyond the Southwest. This venture attracted like-minded persons from metropolitan areas who brought their big-city values with them. Physical protections or barriers–such as security gates and guards–and social habits&emdashsuch as entertainment cliques and conspicuous spending–were established in Santa Fe. The psychological comfort of the newcomers was to be preserved, even in the foreign climate of Santa Fe.
The 1980s saw Santa Fe's first external marketing by outside developers, a new combination of energies and purpose! External marketing impacts a community in at least two major ways. Increased tourism affects infrastructure conditions such as traffic and sewer and water capacity, at least for part of the year. And the landscape and social atmosphere are permanently changed by the influx of new fulltime residents. These permanent changes, which affect systems not easily reversed or repaired, are most important. Such transformations are more potent if the new residents, in accord with the outside developers, import nonindigenous values and if external marketing has targeted people of great wealth and substantial disposable income.
The extraneous values and greater wealth of many new residents affect the physical environment and topography, and the society of Santa Fe in many ways. The physical environment has awkwardly absorbed the nonindigenous concept of large architectural proportion, suffering from oversize hotels ("Ugly #2") which block out the famous vistas. The natural shapes of the land are ignored or destroyed. Cut-and-fill operations are part of a changing pattern of construction. With technological changes, including the facsimile machine, the outsider can now build a primary residence in Santa Fe. Rather than a modestly scaled vacation home, these "first homes" are designed to be monuments to one's net worth, both in scale and in intrusion on the skyline. Sensitivity to a view enjoyed by a neighbor or the community and appreciation of open spaces are not considerations to most external buyers. These outsiders may not be aware of these local priorities that were not present in the urban areas from which they came.
The society of Santa Fe has also been affected by external marketing, especially that which has been targeted at the affluent. Because of the small geographical size of Santa Fe, there are now more dollars chasing fewer adobes. Santa Fe property prices have escalated rather quickly during the late 1980s. Building sites with views and utilities have doubled in cost in the past two years. In fact, a building site that I had offered to purchase at $135,000 (the seller's price) jumped to $245,000 in six months! This escalating price structure has put ownership of property beyond the reach of most local people in Santa Fe, who are historically cash poor but land rich. Long-time residents view this inflation of property values with some resentment, and the community has become polarized around this issue. Furthermore, as real estate values rise, so do property taxes, placing an additional burden on the relatively poor indigenous population.
A concomitant phenomenon is the recent introduction of substantial disposable wealth, and the increased demand for luxury items. Centrally located commercial space for the sale of necessary consumer goods has been sacrificed for expensive shops. On the other hand, wealth in terms of savings and financial investments remains in banks in New York and Los Angeles. Consequently, Santa Fe banks, and the local businesses that depend on them for loans, are not benefiting from the infusion of wealthy outsiders into the community. More dollars have become available for charities, but often the new donors seek socially prestigious charities through which their names are likely to be printed in glossy expensive programs or brochures. New jobs are being created only in the lower-level service areas and in construction. An increasing disparity in income levels is becoming apparent. The poor are not necessarily poorer than before; there are simply so many new residents of great wealth. The social distance between "haves" and "have-nots" is increasing.
How then can the people of Santa Fe respond to these "pressures of invasion"5 from external marketing? Can Santa Fe's spaces and views and quality of open communication endure?
The appearance of Santa Fe has been somewhat protected by two new ordinances. The first one is the Escarpment Ordinance, which limits the height of homes built on ridges and imposes limitations on cuts and fills. The other is the Open Space Plan, designed to preserve existing open spaces, trails, and arroyos and to add to this community land bank as city funds allow. And open communication in Santa Fe is more likely to endure if new residents are: encouraged to become involved in the broader community; introduced to traditional neighborly ways; expected to support the city with their savings, not just their spending; and shown the value of worthwhile charities that yield no status. The results of recent city elections showed majority supports for candidates who advocated these traditional concepts.
If all else fails to deter the pressures of non-native values, the community can decide to enact a ten-year moratorium on external marketing ... or it can use the plague story. When faced with a wealthy outsider whose concerns and interests are alien to this area but who is eager to buy real estate in Santa Fe, I can say, with a hangdog look, "Gee, I had better tell you that Santa Fe is the bubonic plague capital of the country." Before I am finished describing the symptoms of this hideous disease the prospective client will have reconfirmed his or her plane ticket home.


  1. John W Caughey, The American West (Ward Ritchie Press, 1969, p. 33).
  2. Lewis Mumford, January 1962, unpublished manuscript.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Santa Fe Reporter. May 2-8, 1990.
  5. Agnesa Lufkin Reeve, Hacienda to Bungalow: Northern New Mexico Homes 1850-1912 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988).