Ten Planning Lessons from Ancient Pueblos & Cliff Dwellings


Acoma/Sky City Pueblo – Source: airphotona.com

After visiting numerous pueblos, cliff dwellings, and ancient ruins in the Southwestern United States, it is clear to this retired urban planner that the Native Americans were the first great community planners in North America. The sites visited thus far include:

Wuptaki Ruin, Arizona

Based on the observations made at these locations, here’s my list of ten key planning lessons from these inspiring places – the first one is obvious:

  • The arriving European colonists/settlers WERE NOT the first great community planners in North America.
  • Much greater emphasis (and credit) needs to be given throughout the our education system on the contributions from Native Americans to urban design and community planning.
  • One can cite many successful aspects of pueblo and cliff dwelling design that have been incorporated into modern building and design practices.
  • The concept of extended families living together in a communal dwellings is a practice that Americans should consider adopting to help lower housing costs (per person), to help lower the costs associated with child and/or elder care, and to allow multiple generations to learn from and understand each other better.
  • Architecture does not have to be ornate to be awe-inspiring.
  • The level of physical effort it took to establish the ancient pueblos and cliff dwellings of  the Southwest is more than impressive, it is staggering.
  • As planners, we should be seeking guidance from Native Americans and the ancient pueblo and cliff dwellers on the most appropriate ways to reduce our collective footprints on the Earth; to build communities that are more sustainable in a changing climate; and design structures that are longer-lasting and more harmonious with their natural surroundings.
  • Sitting inside a restored Kiva, which is possible to do at Jemez Historic Site in New Mexico (see photo below), is a powerful and moving experience that is so much more than spiritual or introspective in nature – it is profoundly transcendent.

Restored Kiva at Jemez Historic Site, New Mexico

  • These magnificent archaeological and architectural wonders must be documented, preserved, and protected; not only for the benefit of ourselves and future generations, but because of their sacred importance to our Native American friends.

Cliff dwellings in Walnut Canyon National Monument, Arizona

  • As these communities demonstrate, humans have previously had the ability to adapt to “almost any” climate or geography found on Earth. Unfortunately, certain members of humankind are selfishly putting that lesson to an ultimate and wholly unnecessary test when instead, we should be striving to rapidly reduce the levels of CO2 in atmosphere.

Bandolier National Monument, New Mexico

This entry was posted in archaeology, architecture, cities, culture, density, environment, geography, Geology, historic preservation, history, Housing, humanity, infrastructure, land use, Native Americans, nature, placemaking, planning, spatial design, sustainability, topography, tourism, Travel, urban planning and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.