Building a green desert community, is it possible?

The Mesa del Sol development in New Mexico will be a model of anti-sprawl, but are sustainable communities possible in the desert?

The sprawling desert community above is what the Mesa del Sol development is modeling against.

Is it possible to build a green community in the desert?

The developers of the Mesa del Sol community in New Mexico don't just see a green mirage when they look out over the unfinished community.

Mesa del Sol is about the size of Manhattan and is planned based on New Urbanist principles of walkability, density, and mixed-used development by Peter Calthorpe (who spoke with Smartplanet last week about how this sort of urban development is on the "cutting edge of environmentalism"). The community broke ground last month on its first residential development, which will be completed in the next six months. Located just outside of Albuquerque, the community will eventually house 100,000 people, but it's far from sprawl.

From High Country News:

Like other desert boomtowns, Albuquerque's loosely planned sprawl is on a collision course with its finite water supply. Mesa del Sol will have an extremely efficient water system, and its dense, mixed-use design could reduce the need for more development on the city's west side, where suburbs have consumed huge tracts of once-wild desert. Still, "sustainable" development in the arid Southwest sounds quixotic at best, an oxymoron at worst.

In this uncertain economy, nowhere else in the West is a New Urbanist project of this scale moving forward. And yet, this March, Forest City broke ground on Mesa del Sol's first neighborhood. The developer's persistence is thanks in large part to its unusually close alliance with local government.

Sustainable development in the desert might seem like an oxymoron, but it's certainly a nice contrast to the sprawl that has plagued Southwestern cities. And it's a good sign that the community's first tenant was a solar panel manufacturing company.

Check out the development and decide for yourself.

Photo: Daquella manera/Flickr

[Via Planetizen]

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