Our Community Development Director


March 31, 2017

Debbie Israel

Steven Saavedra, Aztec's Community Development Director, enjoys living and working in Aztec

Steven Saavedra is comfortably fitting into his new position as the community development director for the city of Aztec. It is a job he took over in October of 2016, and one for which he was well suited.

Saavedra came to Aztec from the city of Farmington, where he worked in the planning department. Community development has long been a passion of Saavedra's. The Albuquerque native recalled when he was much younger watching the city of Albuquerque plan the expansion of Alameda, a route connecting Albuquerque to Rio Rancho.

"The trade off was individuals lost their homes," Saavedra said. "I could not get my head around how someone could lose their home."

After Saavedra graduated from high school, he attended the University of New Mexico, where he studied economics and psychology. He worked in a law office and taught for Albuquerque Public Schools. He also worked with Albuquerque's community regional planning to study law and zoning, which he said are tied together.

He attended Cornell University, where he earned a master's degree in city and regional planning. His master's thesis covered the topic of imminent domain, researching legal cases in both New Mexico and New York.

A formal education, however, was not the only experience Saavedra had before moving to Aztec and taking on a job in a city planning department. He spent time in both Ecuador and South Africa.

"I worked with different individuals in different countries which added a different perspective to what I do today," Saavedra said.

In Ecuador, Saavedra worked for a non-governmental organization helping the locals with entrepreneur development and community outreach training. He was tasked with going to different government bodies to figure out the political systems and challenges individuals faced when setting up a business.

"I provided training and seminars primarily in Spanish," Saavedra said. There were many difficulties the people faced and it was Saavedra's job to help "mitigate those challenges."

The experience was "amazing," as Saavedra said he was able to experience the "drastic difference" in living conditions between the United States and Ecuador. People were living without running water, attempting to travel and haul produce and goods on unpaved roads.

One interesting aspect of life in Ecuador was the fact that many women were left alone to make a living at home, because the men left for the United States to try and earn money. These women were "a lot stronger and a lot more talented that the men," he said. "One women I met was slaughtering a sheep, and I helped her with that. They have a lot more grit than me."

Saavedra also experienced people living in poverty and facing difficult circumstances when he traveled to South Africa for a research project. "I worked directly with small-holder farmers, who were facing competition from larger farms," he said. The purpose of the project was to find solutions to this and assist the small farms in being successful.

"We were taking a snapshot of the scale of the economy they are up against," Saavedra said. "Remnants of Apartheid are still present."

As part of the research, he had to present findings to South Africa's Agricultural Affairs with hopes of creating co-ops and routes to move products to market. This would help curb the competition.

"The best thing about working South Africa and Ecuador was actually having feet on the ground, gives you a different perspective," Saavedra said.

He brought this perspective back with him and has put it to use when dealing with people in the community who have questions and concerns about planning and zoning in their city.

Saavedra spent two years with the city of Farmington as a current land use planner, before moving to Aztec to take over the city's Community Development Department.

"I was living in Aztec at the time, so this makes it all that more special," he said. "I work with the individuals where I live to plan and develop. I'm enjoying it a lot."

In his new position Saavedra is tasked with working on zoning issues in Aztec and helping to make a development plan for the city. Some ongoing projects include sign regulations and solar ordinances, developing the North Main arterial plan and day-to-day planning and zoning issues.

After his experiences in Albuquerque, he said, "Imminent domain, if it can it should be avoided," he said. "If there is a situation or a challenge I like to look at what we can do now, not later."

With the North Main Corridor, and downtown in general, Saavedra said, the city is looking at was "to enable more businesses to come in and make it more inviting." This also has occurred with his work on the Aztec Hub, which is a downtown economic development and incubation center for business.

"I invite anybody to come to my office," Saavedra said. "I have an open-door policy. Good or bad, I'm willing to work with people. We'll do our best."


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