Higgins and Forbes Isais
Harrison Higgins and Geraldine Forbes Isais, dean of the UNM School of Architecture and Planning, discuss the Harrison Timothy Higgins Chair in Urbanism, which creates an endowment that will leave a multi-million dollar gift to support the University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning.

Harrison Higgins “voted with his feet” when he chose to live in Albuquerque. Now, he’s voting with his assets by creating an endowment that will leave a multi-million dollar gift to support the University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning for the Harrison Timothy Higgins Chair in Urbanism.

Geraldine Forbes Isais, dean of the school, said, “Harrison is a brilliant man and academician. He thought through how best to establish this gift to maximize its impact on the school. With its designation to promote research on urbanism, this is a transformational gift for the school.”

Higgins knows urban
Higgins grew up in New York City and was educated in California. “I started traveling back and forth to New Mexico in the late 1980s,” he said, adding that he had a couple of friends who studied photography at UNM. In 1994, after graduating from Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), he was hired by a large New Mexico architecture firm as director of community planning and urban design. He also advised at the School of Architecture & Planning.

Claudia Isaac, UNM associate professor of Community and Regional Planning, is Higgins’ friend. Higgins’ mentor, Professor Margaret Crawford at SCI-Arc, was Isaac’s colleague at UCLA. Higgins and Isaac also shared other colleagues across the planning academy.

“I think there’s a limit to New Mexico’s myth of exceptionality. There are important lessons to be learned here that are applicable to other places. Their impact can be felt in other North American cities – especially those of the Intermountain West, in Canada and the United States. I believe in the power of ideas." – Harrison Higgins

Isaac’s first thought about Higgins is his “pragmatic approach to the urban condition.” And the “urban condition” speaks to the core of Higgins’ desire to establish the endowment.

“I think there’s a limit to New Mexico’s myth of exceptionality. There are important lessons to be learned here that are applicable to other places. Their impact can be felt in other North American cities – especially those of the Intermountain West, in Canada and the United States,” he said. “I believe in the power of ideas.”

Higgins finds an urban ally
Higgins said that Forbes Isais understands that design disciplines within the university should be intersecting with policy studies to generate ideas that produce higher quality urban life for more people.

“We have struggled with city living in New Mexico,” he said. The myth of the West portrays the Land of Enchantment and its neighboring states with wide-open spaces, rangeland and farms. In actuality, he said, the Intermountain West is highly urban – Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico – all have large urban centers where the majority of each state’s population resides. 

New Mexico’s urban setting
Albuquerque’s growth was generated by the railroad and facilitated by “automobility,” but New Mexico’s largest city isn’t bound like Los Angeles, where 80 percent of the land is tied up in single-family homes. The majority of the population doesn’t live there. “It’s repeated elsewhere,” he said. “How do we live here with these resource restraints?” he asked, acknowledging that the money isn’t going to come from “the home front.”

The intent of the endowment is to provide resources to scholars in the School of Architecture and Planning, across its three disciplines: architecture, landscape architecture and planning, with “the time, space and tools to undertake scholarship, action and other generative activities.”

He anticipates broad participation among the faculty to determine what constitutes urban research. “They will find a way to honor both individual voices as well as individual observers to leverage all research toward action.” He added, “The purpose of research is to inspire action in the world.”

Isaac reflects, “I am reminded of a challenge that Harrison shared on his Facebook page this past fall.  He listed ten books, and challenged us to figure out which of them were tagged to each of us.” Hers was Henri LeFebvre’s Production of Space

“What struck me was the breadth of his top ten list. I think that one posting sums up the depth of his reflective journey through all that we call urban – deeply complicated, contested, social, spiritual, and yes, physical places. It’s what makes him a flaneur in the best sense – a close and critical observer of the city.”