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Skidmore College

Chris Wilson to give ES keynote, welcome Sept. 17

September 13, 2013
Chris Wilson, University of New Mexico
Chris Wilson, University of New Mexico

What makes a neighborhood cool? University of New Mexico (UNM) scholar Chris Wilson will share his insight when he delivers the Environmental Studies keynote lecture at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17.

Free and open to the public, the talk will be in Gannett Auditorium, Palamountain Hall. From 5:45 to 6:30 p.m., as part of the annual ES welcome, community environmental groups will staff tables outside Gannett with information about their local work along with volunteer and internship opportunities.

Wilson, the J.B. Jackson Professor of Cultural Landscape Studies at New Mexico, has visited a number of cool neighborhoods, and considers attributes that make them special. “Is it the condos and apartments amid the vibrant public market that is Seattle’s Pike Place?  Or the slow-moving stream of vehicles, people and vendors along 26th Street in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, where Mexican restaurants and quinceañera shops attest to a distinctively Latino reurbanization? Or Beach Avenue, Vancouver’s vibrant harbor promenade, fronting the historic apartments and shops of the West End, an area energized by an innovative in-fill type that wraps modernist apartment towers with row houses at the sidewalk’s edge?”

According to Wilson, the renewed vitality of such neighborhoods reflects reurbanization occurring across the U.S. and Canada. These neighborhoods integrate housing, jobs, shopping, and recreation, rather than separating them into single-use zones, as in suburbia.

He continued, “It's not that we are abandoning suburbs (nor can we, given the huge investment of resources that they represent). But we are rapidly developing a richer range of alternatives to suburban living. Reurbanization confronts the costs of auto dependence: destruction of agricultural lands, air pollution, global climate change, the depletion of fossil fuels, traffic congestion, social fragmentation, and, many think, a correlation between the obesity epidemic and sprawl. Its aim is sustainable, balanced neighborhoods.”

In addition to his role as J. B. Jackson Professor of Cultural Landscape Studies at the UNM School of Architecture and Planning in Albuquerque, Wilson is founding director of its Historic Preservation and Regionalism Program. He has written widely on architecture, tourism and the politics of culture in the Southwest, and on cultural landscape studies. His current focus is on the role of the on-going reurbanization of the U.S. as a central sustainability strategy.  

As a Clements Fellow at Southern Methodist University (fall 2006) and Paul Mellon Fellow at the Huntington Library (spring 2007) Wilson initiated research on his next book, A Field Guide to Cool Neighborhoods, a study of pedestrian neighborhoods in the U. S. before and after the automobile.  

His earlier work includes a co-authored book, La Tierra Amarilla: Its History, Architecture and Cultural Landscape (1991), which won the Downing Award from the Society of Architectural Historians and has been lauded as a model for cultural landscape studies. Noted historian Ramon Gutierrez has called Wilson’s The Myth of Santa Fe: Creating a Modern Regional Traditions (1997), "...  a truly superb book. It deserves a wide and serious reading.  Literary scholars will be inspired by its narrative strategies.  Historians will marvel at its engagement with theory and its rich and varied uses of archival sources. And bibliophiles and lovers of things Santa Fean will delight in the book’s wonderful vignettes." The book received the Villagra Award from the Historical Society of New Mexico and the Cummings Award from the Vernacular Architecture Forum.

In addition Wilson co-edited (with Paul Groth) Everyday America: Cultural Landscape Studies After J. B. Jackson (2003), which assesses Jackson’s contribution to the field, approaches to teaching landscape, the theoretical underpinnings of the field, and exemplary case studies of 20th-century landscapes. My Kind of American Landscape: J. B. Jackson Speaks, co-edited with Janet Mendelsohn and Miguel Gandert and forthcoming from University of Chicago Press, features essays on Jackson’s career and a DVD with two historic documentaries about Jackson’s ideas, portfolios of his drawings and teaching slides, contemporary interviews about his ongoing impact in a half dozen professions and fields of study.

Wilson’s collaboration with Miguel Gandert, Stefanos Polyzoides and others titled Center Place: The Plazas of New Mexico is forthcoming from Trinity University Press. The book analyzes the history of Pueblo, Hispanic and Anglo planning traditions — exemplified by 22 classic communities — and surveys work over the past 15 years to revitalize existing community spaces and to create new ones.  

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