Wearing the mantle of greatness in Santa Fe

What does Santa Fe have in common with the following cities: Los Angeles; Arouca, Portugal; Bangkok; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Nuuk, Greenland; and Indianapolis?

Well, Time lists them all as among the magazine’s 100 Greatest Places of 2021.

The name of the list is misleading, though.

When you designate something as simply the “greatest,” the word is supposed to have a broad meaning, as in “New York is the greatest city in the world” or “Willie Mays is the greatest baseball player of all time.” Greatest means you’re the best of the best, beyond category. When you assert that New York is the greatest city, you aren’t just claiming that the Big Apple is a great place to visit, but that it’s the best example of humanity’s tendency to gather into giant urban centers, with the best mix of culture and diversity and enterprise that can happen in such places. You’re asserting that Willie Mays isn’t just the best center fielder ever; he is the greatest of the great ballplayers who have ever appeared on the diamond, regardless of position.

It turns out that Time’s greatest places list is more narrowly focused. Like many rankings that have honored Santa Fe in the past, and which we’re used to and expect, Time’s is all about tourism.

The magazine says of the idea behind the list: “The challenges of the past year and a half have transformed our world, and few industries have been as affected as travel, tourism and hospitality. In many ways, our third annual list of the World’s Greatest Places is a tribute to the people and businesses at the forefront of those industries who, amid extraordinary circumstances, found ways to adapt, build and innovate. It shines a light on ingenuity, creativity, revitalization and reopenings in destinations across the world.”

Time solicited nominations from its “international network of correspondents and contributors, with an eye toward those offering new and exciting experiences.” The 100 places aren’t ranked, by the way, and are listed in alphabetical order.

OK, so how did Santa Fe make the list? What’s new and exciting in our four-century-old city, which Time headlines as the historical-sounding “Monument to the Southwest?”

Time’s writer likes Bishop’s Lodge (who wouldn’t, if you can afford it?), which was recently redone as an ultra-luxury resort with room rates of $1,000 to $3,000 a night. The listing cites Bishop’s Lodge’s centerpiece 1874 chapel and guided trail rides on horseback.

In the Railyard, our new urban center, Time notes the recent arrivals of Bosque Brewing and especially the distinctive, tea-centric Opuntia Café, with “an indoor garden and a selection of seasonal bowls and toasts” (not mentioned are the café’s great mountain views).

The Railyard is “a cultural hub that offers commuter train service,” Time also notes. We’ve always said the Rail Runner looks good cutting through town, and that’s particularly true when it chugs through the Railyard during a big outdoor concert or other event and everybody waves or even cheers. The train has never achieved its passenger-count goals, but, yes, it does look great and apparently still appears new and innovative enough to get the notice of a national magazine.

Time finally cites something new that many locals may not have been aware of, that a pandemic surge in bikers “inspired volunteers from the Santa Fe Fat Tire Society to build a five-mile loop at Galisteo Basin Preserve,” southeast of town.

It’s a nice boost that Time has recognized that Santa Fe is becoming more than all the old favorites, such as the Plaza, La Fonda, the big summer markets, our traditional New Mexican restaurants, shopping and spa treatments.

(But how did Meow Wolf, our latest national success and media darling, not get a mention from Time as new and exciting? And is a more luxurious, more expensive lodging option really an innovation?)

It would have been nicer, and more significant, if Santa Fe had made a list of, really, the 100 greatest places in the world, not just the greatest places to visit.

We could make an argument to get on such a list – we’re a small, scenic city with a historically unique and diverse culture, and world-class offerings, from this weekend’s Spanish Market and the summer opera season to our museums and an increasingly varied dining scene. The mountains outdoors are just a short drive away.

But the City Different is like a lot of places – appropriately, residents focus on what needs to get better here, despite all the great things visitors rave about.

We can make a real argument for greatness after we (insert your own list here) solve the affordable housing problem, learn how to help and appropriately deal with the homeless population, improve low subject competency rates in the public schools, diversify the economy and reduce income inequality, create more attractive public spaces and parks, honestly and cooperatively address the cultural/ethnic divides that recent events have exacerbated, and somehow conquer our intractable weed/ugly street median/litter problems beyond the zones that tourists frequent.

Maybe we’ll make progress on all these fronts down the line, and we are trying. For now, it’s still a good thing that we can make any top-100 list, even if it’s one intended for people from somewhere else.

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