Taos, New Mexico

Embracing Culture and History Towards a Better Downtown Taos

Taos, New Mexico | 2019

Project Details

The Challenge

Key Activities


Perched on a high-desert landscape, Taos, New Mexico has a rich cultural heritage that dates back centuries. This history, and the town’s friendly (and sometimes outright kooky) residents, give Taos a distinct personality.

While the Taos community has worked hard to maintain its sense of character and strong connection to the past, they also face significant challenges for the future. The economy has sputtered in the wake of the Great Recession. Blows to the construction industry and the closure of a major local mine left many locals with few employment options. 22% of locals—and 38% of local youth—live in poverty. And young people are leaving at an alarming rate, largely due to a lack of opportunities.

Responding to these issues, the Town of Taos reached out to Community Builders to help bring Taoseños together to change the way the community engages in important conversations about the future, and to create a shared vision and strategy for the heart of the community—Downtown Taos.

A goal of Strong at Heart was to model a more effective approach to community engagement and public process.Because there were so many different and unique voices in the community, we began the process by understanding what was commonly loved in the community. Based upon that common ground, we helped them build a planning process and leadership structure that involved bringing new and emerging leaders to the project, and putting the process in their hands.

With this leadership in place, we started a unique community engagement process to work towards creating the town’s downtown strategy. This engagement was anything from 300+ people at meetings, talking with students in classrooms, involved block parties, and small group conversations around people’s kitchen tables.

From here, we moved from values to a long-term vision for downtown that also included specific strategies to make that happen. From streetscaping and placemaking to code changes, the community was able to agree on the strategies they would work towards. This agreement was cause for celebration, and our project wrapped with a street party that brought the community together, while also demonstrating the future of their downtown with some tactical urbanism projects.

Today, the Taos Strong at Heart Downtown Strategy has already resulted in many immediate improvements in the downtown–from several alleyway improvement projects, to catalytic streetscaping and reinvestment along the Paseo. The plan has been adopted as the basis for the downtown section of the Comprehensive Plan, and was also adopted as the work plan for the newly formed and nationally accredited Taos Main Street Association—an implementation organization formed specifically to drive the Strong at Heart Downtown Strategy forward.