It’s no accident New York City’s SoHo neighborhood—once famed as the global capital of artist studios—is now synonymous with gentrification. SoHo is the textbook case for how a neglected neighborhood gets adopted by artists seeking cheap and free rent, a situation that feeds the growth of bars, cafés and galleries. Eventually you get architects, natural grocers, Betsey Johnson, Prada and an Apple Store. By this time, soaring real estate values have driven out the artists.
It goes without saying that, prior to the artists, some other group was driven out of the area (in SoHo, before the artists, it was Native Americans, then the Dutch, then the textile industry), usually through trickery, sub-legal land grabs, inflated property taxes, etc.
So there are similarities between the fabled New York neighborhood and Santa Fe’s Canyon Road, but only thin and tragic similarities. Which makes Sunset Magazine’s June 2009 dubbing of a lopsided wedge of town—including a portion of Canyon Road—as a “micro-neighborhood” called ToCa a casual tragedy. ToCa, we’re told, is the “unofficial” designation for “Top of Canyon.”
That this dangerous silliness was perpetrated by local freelance writer Katie Arnold is all the more depressing. I always thought there were unwritten rules when writing about Santa Fe for big, silly magazines: Don’t invent stupid, pseudo-hipster artist neighborhood designations that don’t make any sense, and never, ever tell the tourists about Johnnie’s Cash Store. Silly me.
Also, a more obvious rule is that shortened SoHo-style names have to follow some logic. If ToCa, “an alternate universe within the city’s arts community” runs for a short way—let’s say micro-ways—east from Camino del Monte Sol (with a weird scimitar hook that somehow includes Camino Don Miguel) up to the Monsignor Patrick Smith Park, where the hell is Upper Canyon supposed to be? Apparently above the top.
Brevity is the traditional motivator for such nicknames. SoHo, of course, stands for South of Houston. Nolita is short for North of Little Italy and Tribeca saves one from having to mouth “Triangle below Canal Street.”
ToCa, however, is hardly shorter than “Canyon,” which is the name the neighborhood already has. If you’re familiar with the politics of neighborhood associations in Santa Fe, you’ll know the last thing we need is micro-neighborhood associations. Finally, it is the height of ridiculousness to hybridize a name into a Spanish language homonym in an old Hispanic neighborhood.
The world may have collectively thought this kind of naming scheme was over when New Yorkers started throwing around Dumbo—District under Manhattan Bridge overpass—but it turns out it was just the final death throes of applying such techniques to anything resembling a genuine artist’s culture. Now it’s purely a real estate designation and it’s perpetuated by the kind of faux-informative articles Sunset Magazine pushes—really just advertisements.
No doubt many business owners will be pleased, as will those handling the city’s tourism efforts. “Like gold,” they will mumble in their cubicles. “We can’t afford to buy ads that good.” And that is true: Exposure like this can be measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, at least if your job, like a virus, is to expose people.
But Santa Fe has been pretending at cultural phenomena for too long now. We finally brought the world here to see our art scene and the world now knows that it ain’t much. But it can be—there are nascent pockets of innovation and substantive new efforts—so long as, this century, we choose to be genuine.
If we’re going to come down on the side of marketing, primarily for the benefit of real estate brochures, then we’re going to continue losing young artists and gaining racy retirees. In that event, I suggest an alternative designation for Santa Fe’s larger tourist neighborhood: Alas.