We New Mexicans spend a lot of time lamenting the “bad lists” New Mexico and Albuquerque end up on, so why not take some time to highlight a positive one?
Outside Magazine, an industry publication focused on the outdoors, named Albuquerque one of its 20 top cities and towns to live in on its annual list. Our fair city appeared alongside metropolitan areas like Chicago and Philadelphia, and outdoor meccas like Austin, due in large part to investments made at the city and state level.
“To get that recognition is really powerful, and I think it is evidence of the benefits residents are seeing,” said Axie Navas, director of New Mexico’s two-year-old Outdoor Recreation Division and a former editor at the publication, which has offices in Santa Fe and earlier this year was acquired by a Colorado company.
Outside has run a version of this list for more than two decades, but the publication made some changes to its criteria this year.
Rather than fixating on craft beer and beautiful landscapes, this year’s list prioritized affordability and equitable access to the outdoors. The article’s intro said it combined demographic data with on-the-ground research about green infrastructure to create its list. Each section was written by a local expert, with Santa Fe-based writer Murat Oztaskin authoring the Albuquerque capsule.
“From new parks to greater state-level investment, our experts shared highlights of their favorite places and what improvements they’re seeing—or not,” the story reads.
New Mexicans might be accustomed to seeing Santa Fe and Taos appear on lists like this one, but the state’s largest city has not always gotten credit for its access to the outdoors.
And not without reason, as Outside notes. The lands surrounding Albuquerque might be beautiful, but they’ve long been relatively inaccessible to a lot of the city’s population. The article ranks Albuquerque 40th in outdoor access among America’s 100 largest cities, despite abundant public lands.
Navas told the Journal that increasing access to the outdoors for underserved populations, including low-income youth, was one of the reasons the division was created in 2019. Navas pointed to a lack of public transportation to and from public lands as well as a lack of affordable housing near public spaces as barriers to access.
“I think that’s something that communities, the state and the federal government need to address together,” Navas said.
The state’s Outdoor Equity Fund, included in the law that created the outdoor division, is designed to mitigate those barriers by funding organizations that offer equitable access to the outdoors for New Mexico kids. In its second funding cycle, the fund awarded $898,337 to 57 programs across the state, up from $261,863 to 25 programs the year prior. Navas added that states with established outdoor recreation industries, including Colorado and California, have created their own equity programs modeled after New Mexico’s.
“I think New Mexico’s really setting the stage for that work,” Navas said.
At this point, you might be asking: so, what does this have to do with economic development? Beyond having personal benefits, Navas said providing access to the outdoors for kids can help create a lifelong interest in the industry, potentially creating a broader network of workers and entrepreneurs who can power the industry for years to come.
And having New Mexico’s largest city at the middle of that can help establish it as a hub for outdoor offerings in other parts of the state, Navas said. If that happens, Outside won’t be the last national outlet paying attention to Albuquerque’s outdoor economy.
Stephen Hamway covers economic development, health care and tourism for the Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.