A neighborhood is made up of little stories, the lived experiences of community and identity that eventually become the memories we live by. Thomas Romero is a natural storyteller whose anecdotes of growing up in the Hopewell Mann neighborhood unspooled readily. Romero's father built the family home, located on the corner of Fifth and Mann streets, from cinder blocks purchased from Empire Builders. Every night after work, he laid them line by line until the structure took form. Later, when it was time for a plumber, the elder Romero traded for labor; his currency was in haircuts. Entire family groups—grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins—bought separate lots near one another and lived as neighbors. During Holy Week, kids would deliver food to their kin that lined the adjacent roads after the pre-Easter fasting ended. Fred's Market, where locals could pay with cash or credit, was within walking distance and Ingrid's Drive-In, just off the corner of Cerrillos Road and Fourth Street, was one of several options for movies in Santa Fe.
When Romero was growing up, his barrio marked the very edge of Santa Fe. The Toyota dealership that is now rapidly expanding off of St. Michael's Drive was just dirt roads and prairie dogs. In fact, St. Michael's Drive didn't even exist at that point. Romero chuckled when he declared, "It was all llano back then. That's how the road got its name," referring to Llano Street, which intersects with Hopewell, the neighborhood's namesake. By "then," Romero (who is currently the director of the Rio Grande National Heritage Area) means the 1950s, a decade defined by a post-WWII economic and baby boom in America's lower and middle class, and the 1960s. By the 1970s, the city was stretching its legs as tourism began to reshape the downtown and pushed what Romero calls "anchor" businesses—gas stations, general clothing stores and grocery stores—further down Cerrillos Road. With decades of growth in almost every direction, the Hopewell Mann neighborhood became the city's center. Now, it is a small but significant slice of Santa Fe at the nexus of the three major thoroughfares: St. Michael's Drive, Cerrillos Road and St. Francis Drive. The Rail Runner zips directly through it.
If you've spent any time cruising through the area, you've probably noticed how the tiny streets within the barrio curve and interlock with no apparent reasoning. A mix of 100-year old adobe homes and cinder block homes, many with the same decorative wrought iron that dominates Northern New Mexico facades, as well trailer homes and public housing line these streets. It's one of the few neighborhoods in town that has retained its "old-school flavor," in the words of Tomás Rivera, executive director of Chainbreaker Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to housing and transportation justice in Santa Fe. A majority of Chainbreaker's 600 dues-paying members come from Hopewell Mann. Rivera himself lives on Fifth Street in an old adobe home with exposed vigas and two-foot-thick walls built by "his great grandfather from the dirt in the backyard." While he never met his grandparents, his neighbors still remember them. A significant pocket of community has long lineages in the area, as well as long memories that conjure a deep sense of place.
That's not to say that the area hasn't seen its share of challenges; back in the '90s, Hopewell Mann was distinguished by gang violence. Much of that has settled down in recent years, but other obstacles remain: Hopewell Mann has the lowest median income in all of Santa Fe and the highest number of renters, many of whom are "housing cost burdened," according to a study published by Human Impact Partners in tandem with Chainbreaker. Those renters are also, primarily, Latinx. The study, "Equitable Development and Risk of Displacement," profiled four neighborhoods two years ago. One of those was Hopewell Mann.
Gentrification has been on the national radar for some time, though the discourse has only just reached its peak. But generally when a community has seen disinvestment—a dearth of funding toward infrastructure, for instance—this keeps property values low, making it easy for developers to swoop in. In the case of Hopewell Mann, the disinvestment comes as "a lack of sidewalks, bike lanes, transit and parks" in Rivera's estimation. However, with the barrio's proximity to downtown and the "growing number of upscale retail amenities," the area's majority-renter population is at risk of displacement, the study concluded. It is unclear for now how putting protections for renters and homeowners into effect might help break the pattern of displacement that has become part of Santa Fe's story as well. With the right kind of municipal policies, Rivera maintains that "displacement does not have to be inevitable."