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A new path to local change 

Between the Lines

More than a year ago, four young adults began talking privately about what was wrong with Colorado Springs — and how they might fix it.

That second part was, and still is, crucial. They couldn't stand the whiners who always find fault with the city but never offer solutions. They couldn't go along with elected leaders who say they care but don't come up with bold ideas.

Those four Springs residents — two men, two women, all younger than 40, two in their 20s, three natives, one who moved here a decade ago — shared one gnawing frustration. They could see Colorado Springs deteriorating, yet they felt incapable of doing anything about it.

So these four people decided to stop being spectators. They realized the time had come for them to step up, but in a different way because, as one says, "This is not about individuals, not about us." For them, anonymity might not last much longer, but they're convinced it's the best approach now.

So these men and women have begun blazing a new path, which starts with finding out how many others have the same ideas and dreams.

They've built an intriguing Web site called icoloradosprings.org, a "springboard for dialogue, inclusion, creativity and change," where they've outlined their views about the city and ask visitors to contribute thoughts. At the same time, they're distributing pre-stamped postcards with the headline "how could colorado springs rock?" and urging anyone to "write/draw/collage your thoughts on how to make Colorado Springs an awesome and amazing place to live" before mailing it to a local post-office box.

Word of the site, and 1,000 cards, have begun spreading around town. The four trailblazers have no timetable and no idea what to expect. Their first thought is that if 150 cards come back in the mail, they'll pay to make more.

This isn't a different version of the "Dream City 2020" project. It's not about asking prominent local people what they think. It's about drilling into the city's young-adult population, basically anyone from 18 to 40, and seeing what emerges.

"We see so much potential here, so many amazing people," says one organizer, representing the others in speaking to the Independent. "But in this demographic ... the voices of young people haven't been elevated in this town."

So diplomatic. Instead, let's be more blunt: Young adults are ignored in Colorado Springs. They have no place, and aren't welcome, at the civic leadership table.

For example, one of the foursome considered running for City Council, which led to a meeting with "influential" people. But instead of hearing encouragement and advice, the organizer says this hopeful candidate was admonished with a cold-hearted slapdown: You're way too young. You're not connected. You need more substance. Come back when you're more mature.

That's when the four of them realized they had to do more. They weren't newsmakers, but all had been involved in community projects or nonprofit work. They simply had to take it in a different direction.

"We want to know what other people like us are thinking," says the organizer. "We want to see if they have the same concerns about lack of leadership, the same powerlessness, and we want to see how disengaged people really are and how motivated they are. ... We just wanted to create a different model for change."

They don't know how they'll measure success. But they do hope the coming input will lead to new tactics and group efforts. Some early ideas: an outdoor ice rink in front of the Antlers Hilton, street vendors and local artisans on a Tejon Street pedestrian mall, a "small-mart revolution" supporting local business, revitalizing City Auditorium, engaging more with Colorado College (and vice versa), and various eco/green community initiatives.

Along the way, perhaps they can uncover some fresh faces (including their own) and help form a new generation of innovative leaders.

"This could be the platform," the organizer says. "It's all black and white now, but we will add color as we receive ideas. We want to create new texture in Colorado Springs. This is when our city will finally become colorful."

They also might have to make room for others who might be older now but remember feeling the same way. And they could again.

routon@csindy.com

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