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Fave City
Travel + Leisure magazine proves that people think Santa Fe is a realtor’s dream: peaceful, relaxing and deeply boring.

Zane's World

Unfriendly, but Hot

October 14, 2009, 12:00 am

I’ll bet they’re creaming in their brochures down at the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Santa Fe is once again a prominent player in Travel + Leisure magazine’s annual survey of America’s favorite cities. For those who don’t know, Travel + Leisure pretty much defines modern global culture. At least, that’s the magazine’s claim, so it must be true.

Out of 30 cities voted on by visitors to Travel + Leisure’s website, Santa Fe has captured the kind of rankings that bring joy to the hearts of the interminably boring and glee to the small minds and fat wallets of status quo admirers. Santa Fe is the No. 1 city for peace and quiet, the No. 2 city for relaxing retreats and the No. 3 city for environmental friendliness and cultural getaways. That’s the kind of publicity you can use to auction off your overstock of crappy condominiums with, by golly. Or to maintain the kind of tepid business climate and last-century marketing that has cemented Santa Fe’s reputation as a place that, while feared by daring entrepreneurs, is great for getting a pedicure, having your picture taken with an actual Native American and still being in bed by 9 pm.

If you are the sort who squanders the workaday by browsing the internet when you ought to be producing value for the lagging economy, you can check out Travel + Leisure’s related online features, like “City Face-Off.” Pick two cities, line them up like gladiators or American Idol contestants or Facebook friends, and see which one comes out on top.

It’s kind of fun to choose a city at random—say, Portland, Ore.—and see how it stacks up against Santa Fe. Apparently, people in Portland are smarter and friendlier than people in Santa Fe, but we’re much better looking. They’re more athletic, but we are more diverse and stylish. Attempting to empirically verify Santa Fe as a diverse and stylish city full of quiet, cantankerous, hot people, however, offers a clue that Travel + Leisure’s methods may not be exactly scientific.

I’m willing to wager most voters in the favorite-cities poll have never been to most of the places they’re ranking. In other words, people are voting based on preconceptions formed by, for example, Travel + Leisure magazine.

It’s no accident Santa Fe is perceived as a quiet city that’s good for a relaxing retreat—that’s the message our visitors’ bureau puts out to the rest of the world using our tax dollars. It came as a surprise to me to learn that, according to Travel + Leisure, “the heady aroma of burning piñon logs permeates the air every night in Santa Fe,” but I’m sure it’s considered “on message” down at the CVB.

Of course, such heady aromas probably do permeate the air of hotel lobbies every night, which is evidence that very few people visit Santa Fe—instead they visit a controlled experience punctuated by prescribed markers. There’s evidence that the difference between these two Santa Fes is extreme. According to Travel + Leisure, one of Santa Fe’s most tragic negatives is “big name luxury hotels.” I was wholly in agreement until I realized that Travel + Leisure’s opinion is that we don’t have enough of them.

Let’s straighten out some of these other inverted allegations about Santa Fe.

No. 1 for “peace and quiet”: Not if you’re staying at Hotel St. Francis on a night when The Matador, El Paseo, Evangelo’s, Milagro 139, Del Charro and Catamount are in full swing. Not if you visit High Mayhem instead of the San Miguel Church. Not if you’re here for Zozobra. Not if you live on Agua Fria.

No. 5 for “safety”: Not if you ride a bicycle. Not if you’re a woman alone at night. Not if you consider drunken drivers a hazard. Not if you think getting punched to death in a median or a park might be unsafe. Not if the primary threat to your safety is domestic violence from a licensed security guard carrying a possibly illegal firearm. Not if you live on Agua Fria.

No. 5 for “cleanliness”: Not if you’ve ever been to an arroyo. Not if you consider the populace habitually hurling half-empty fast-food containers and beer bottles out the windows of moving cars to be messy. Not if you live on Agua Fria.

No. 9 for “ethnic food”: Not unless you consider the Navajo taco to be ethnic. Not unless you’ve never heard of Ethiopia. Not if you live on Agua Fria.

No. 12 for “diverse”: Not if you consider 94 percent white and Hispanic to be somewhat limiting. Not if you consider Asian, black and Pacific Islander populations below 2 percent to be small. Not if you know Santa Fe County only has a little more than 3 percent Native American population. Not if you live on Agua Fria.

So, Travel + Leisure readers and editors, thanks for parroting the ad dollars and reducing real, vibrant, textured, complex and problematic communities into banal generalizations and bland categories. Thanks, but no thanks.


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