Ghost Motel

Homeless campers at the site of the old Zia Motor Lodge, Central Avenue (Route 66) in Albuquerque

One of my many book ideas is The Decline of a Good American City, a loving but sad tribute to Albuquerque. I’m not sure if the premise is right, and I’m not sure if a not-optimistic framing is of any use whatsoever, whether it’s right or not. So I’ll probably never write this, but I was thinking about it on my morning bike ride.




  1. First, I am not planning to camp out at the Zia. However I have a dear friend in CA who has chosen to live in her large SUV to save money for her daughter struggling with nursing school loans. She is happy being a minimalist who pays for a small storage unit. She drives from sunrise to sunrise to photograph wherever the light is right and then goes to work, where no one knows that she has showered at the YMCA. I have never seen her happier.

  2. David –

    Do you mean by your question a) What is your evidence that Albuquerque is in decline? Or b) Why is that decline occurring?

    For a) Albuquerque is doing poorly on a host of economic indicators. The Brookings Metro Monitor ( ) ranked the 100 largest metro areas, and we were very near the bottom in every category they looked at. We simply haven’t come out of the 2008 shitstorm. (I was surprised at Portland’s rankings, y’all are not doing as well as I expected, though a lot better than Albuquerque.) The rankings are bit old, but the data I track doesn’t show much change since.

    For b), dunno. And that’s not just because *I* don’t know, but I don’t think *we* know. Discussions around this issue inevitably settled on “We need more X,” where “X” is my the thing I’d be advocating for anyway – better transit and bike trails is my favorite. But I don’t think anyone really knows, or if they do, it’s impossible for me distinguish from among the many explanations that are out there.

  3. Do you think others in Albuquerque have the same sense as you, that the city is on the decline?

    Portland is perhaps behind the curve because there are always a lot of people moving there, and they usually come without jobs. I don’t know…. The city isn’t very business friendly…. They’re bigger concerns are bike paths, homelessness, bike lanes, bike bridges, etc (it sometimes seems). And, in the past year, controlling mass protests that sometimes turn into riots.

    I don’t think people come to Portland to get rich. Lots of people have great paying jobs, but the hipsters move here for the hipster vibe.

  4. Just the tip of the berg. Try going to downtown San Diego, armies of homeless.Its not Albuquerque that’s in decline so much as its our nations will or ability to help those who for whatever reason cannot or choose not to provide for themselves. Like Alison’s friend, I am sure there is a small percentage that choose this way of life. Some may have just given up. Any number of reasons.

    A Nation, a people, can be judged on how well it helps those who cannot help themselves.

    “…tired, your poor, your huddled masses…”

    So how would you grade US so far?

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