Shifting Paradigms

The American environmental movement is grounded in sacred values: forbearance, awe, and humility. It is a movement inspired by a profound love of place and the conviction that we are responsible for the future, as well as the present.

Notwithstanding the generosity of its ethics and the passion of its poetry, the movement has promoted an ideology in which “nature” is a often viewed as the realm of wild and unspoiled places, entirely separate and apart from humans.

Commonweal Conservancy was founded in 2003 to challenge the precepts of traditional environmentalism. Moved by Aldo Leopold’s appeal to nurture a land ethic of wisdom, respect, and wonder for the planet, Commonweal Conservancy is championing an integrative practice of landscape-scale conservation and ecologically resilient community making.

The laboratory for our explorations has been a nearly 10,000-acre historic ranch and natural area in northern New Mexico; one we call the Galisteo Basin Preserve. By our work, Commonweal seeks to nurture a culture of stewardship and a spirit of belonging among people and the land they call home.

Theory into Practice

Design Principles

The planning and development of the Galisteo Basin Preserve has been informed by ecologists, wildlife biologists, archaeologists, landscape architects, land planners, architects, engineers, GIS professionals, along with input from local residents, public agency professionals and elected officials. The physical land plan of the GBP’s neighborhoods is the result of countless hours of research, mapping and ground-truthing.

The conservation neighborhoods and building envelopes of the West Basin, New Moon Overlook Southern Crescent, East Preserve and Conservation Ranches were carefully sited. Green design and construction guidelines were painstakingly drafted. Throughout its work, Commonweal has sought to develop neighborhoods that will connect residents with the land… and each other. 

Roads, utilities, and services/amenities are planned in accordance with the highest standards of low-impact engineering. All building areas are intended to limit the impact of new construction on the region's fragile soil and biotic resources, while maximizing views and privacy for property owners.

Carefully defined covenants and restrictions guide home building that exemplifies the energy efficiency and water-conservation values of green development. The land surrounding the neighborhoods have been — or are in the process of being — overlaid with conservation easements.

In combination with its community development goals, the preserve aspires to conserve and restore more than 9,000 acres of open space. Drawing on the professional experience and values of its staff and partners, the preserve is designed to nurture deep and sustaining connections between land and people.

While acknowledging architecture's capacity for artistry and transformation, the preserve is a place where the land takes precedence. In this spirit, the design goals and development values of the Southern Crescent, New Moon Overlook, West Basin, East Preserve, and the Conservation Ranches are informed by the following principles:

  • Love for the Galisteo Basin's precious scenic resources

  • Deference to the Galisteo Basin's rich cultural history

  • Stewardship of the region's animal, plant, soil, and water resources

  • Respect for the complexity and creativity of social organizations

Site Planning

To fully appreciate the opportunities and constraints associated with the preserve’s conservation development activities, Commonweal Conservancy thoroughly analyzed the properties' topographic, scenic, viewshed, and cultural resources using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology.

All home sites in the Galisteo Basin Preserve have been designed to:

  • Protect views to the surrounding Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Jemez Mountains, Ortiz Mountains, and the Cerrillos Hills

  • Encourage highly productive solar orientation for warmth and power

  • Enhance the productivity and diversity of native plant and animal habitat

  • Facilitate alluvial water storage

  • Protect natural drainages from erosion

  • Minimize the visibility of new development from public right-of-ways and existing homes

  • Conserve the property's priceless archaeological and historic resources

  • Leverage natural windscreens (e.g. hilltops, ridges, and trees) as a source of protection from high winds

  • Foster connections between people and the land, and between residents and their neighbors

Conservation Objectives

The design guidelines for development in the Galisteo Basin Preserve include the following:

  • Build structures that fit gracefully within the property's hills and valleys

  • Protect public viewsheds from light pollution and rooftop "sky-lining" effects

  • Restore the productivity and ecological diversity of grasslands and riparian corridors

  • Enhance the water-storage capacity of alluvial soils and minimize erosion

  • Utilize the sun, wind, land, and trees to facilitate heating, cooling, lighting, and ventilation

  • Maximize the use of locally produced, benign building materials, waste reduction techniques, and green design practices

  • Utilize highly efficient water-conservation, rainwater-catchment, and wastewater-reuse design strategies and technologies

Commonweal Communities

To advance its community development ambitions, Commonweal Conservancy, Inc. created a wholly-owned subsidiary known as Commonweal Communities. This for-profit subsidiary manages some market-rate real estate portions of Commonweal projects, including sales of the Southern Crescent home sites.