I-40 and ABQ’s Ill-Fated Coronado Park

Note: With Mayor Keller announcing imminent closure of Coronado Park, here’s a repost of our June 2020 look at the Park’s history, in particular how the ~1960 placement of I-40 directly next to it changed the park and the surrounding neighborhoods. 

Carlos Moody was murdered Monday at Coronado Park by Jeremy Garcia (allegedly). Mr. Garcia is accused of purposely driving onto the Park grounds and running over Mr. Moody. He currently faces an open count of murder. That incident and a question from a colleague about the impact of highways built through communities of color has me going through historic aerial photos of Albuquerque this morning, specifically looks at changes over time of the area near Coronado Park.

Today, the Park between 2nd and 4th NW at I-40 is primarily known as a place of refuge for the unhoused, a situation evolved through myriad causes boiled down to the failure of our City, State, Nation to provide anything approaching an adequate social safety net. The area also suffers a disproportionate of walking deaths and injuries, particularly at the underpass of 2nd St. at I-40. In a town full of walking dangers, this intersection is nearly unmatched in its deadliness.

Coronado Park and environs weren’t always this way.

Today, the Wells Park Neighborhood Association illustrates its neighborhood boundary below, including Coronado Park just NW of Rio Bravo Brewing Company:

While the adjacent Near North Valley Neighborhood Association has these boundaries:

But while I-40 now serves as a boundary so severe one might call it a “Border Wall” in terms of walking and cycling access across it, there was once no such barrier. A mix of residential homes, industry, and parks such as Coronado seamlessly existed from downtown north and west to Albuquerque Indian School.

Then I-40 came.

The following three screengrabs from the City’s Historical Aerial Map Viewer layer between 1959, just prior to I-40 construction, transitionally between the 1959 photo and a 2018 view, and the same scene fully in 2018.

north wells park 1959
Coronado Park is the treed area at bottom right. I believe the oval at the top right is a track/field at Albuquerque Indian School
north wells park transition
This transitional layering shows the homes and other features replaced by I-40 and frontage roads
north wells park today
And here’s the “Border Wall” of today. BB wrote on I-25’s similar impact to neighborhoods south and east of Downtown in this post. 

Would not having bisected a thriving neighborhood including Coronado Park solved the societal issues of homelessness, behavioral health, etc.? No, of course not. But Coronado Park and its surrounding neighborhood, a long-standing neighborhood of color in a City where several neighborhoods communities of color were similarly bisected and damaged, would be much more vibrantly thriving today.

Depending on who you talk to today, either little thought was given at the time to inequities in choosing highway placement, or a great deal of very discriminatory and racist thought was put into such placement. The overwhelming evidence is that segregation and willful neighborhood disruption were very much at the pernicious heart of such planning.

As just about always happens with things historical, today we tend to just see I-25 and I-40 as having always been here. It’s just the way it is. Hopefully, moving forward as we truly begin work toward destroying centuries of systemic racism is this country, we’ll learn from our past and take actions needed to make sure “just the way it is” never happens again.

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