As the Independent's editorial staff brainstormed and developed the concepts for this second edition of our Annual Manual, one theme, one question, repeatedly influenced our thinking:
Why do we live here?
There are a few no-brainers: the mountains and natural beauty, the dry climate, the relatively modest standard of living. Beyond those answers, though, different people in Colorado Springs would answer that question in vastly different ways. The populace includes a fascinating (and sometimes infuriating) montage of conservatives and liberals, natives and transplants, off-road addicts and bar-hoppers, east-siders and west-siders, not to mention the military, religious and sports-related communities.
Occasionally, they'll intermingle. Often, they won't. Much of the time, there's an awkwardly peaceful coexistence. The fun and the fireworks start when one of the polarizing groups from either side tries to force its views on others.
Talk to the politically sensitive crowd, and you'll likely hear some unusual demographic analysis.
One such example: Draw an east-west line along Constitution Avenue, and that serves as an unofficial dividing line for politics and morals. Anywhere north, and especially the farther north you go, the right-wingers (spreading as far to the right as you can imagine) are dominant. South of Constitution, the moderates and even liberals (did someone say "sensible people"? Surely not ...) are much more prevalent and comfortable. Needless to say, because everyone crosses that line at least every now and then, life can be downright, uh, entertaining.
With this guide, we hope to capture a sense of this city's split personalities, to compile some interesting (and little-known) history lessons, and to assess the local scene from culture and education to outdoor recreation and tourism and everything in between.
But this publication begins with taking a stab at describing what does pull the Colorado Springs area together.
Certainly, one doesn't have to be red or blue to appreciate Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods, Red Rock Canyon, Seven Falls or Cheyenne Caon. They're open and available to everyone, and if you visit any of them, you instantly can tell that their appeal is unlimited, even universal.
Of course, many more manmade treasures also factor into the equation. Other places embrace sports, but they don't have the U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters, including the Olympic Training Center complex. Other metros have military presences, but not the U.S. Air Force Academy. Other cities have resorts, but not The Broadmoor and its world-renowned hotel, golf and spa facilities.
Other areas might have one or two tourist attractions, but not enough to keep a family on the go for a full week or more.
It just so happens that some of those attractions the aforementioned Air Force Academy, say, or Focus on the Family bring us to the dichotomies.
Some might call it a military town, except compared to other such locales, it doesn't really feel that way. Many might focus on the right-wing prevalence, but that would discount the vocal and vibrant "Focus on Your Own Damn Family" population.
Yes, there are many religious groups, ministries and evangelical operations in our midst. But most aren't exactly oppressive, and they don't inhibit the challenged-yet-ambitious local culture landscape, led by the expanding Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. Or the live music scene, which is cultivating a loyal following despite a lack of venues.
Having the downtown Pikes Peak Center and south-end Colorado Springs World Arena allows the city to lure many second-tier events and entertainment, despite the fact neither has the capacity to compete with Denver for the top acts, tours and attractions.
In other words, you can see the recycled Three Dog Night and Kris Kristofferson here. For John Mayer, John Legend, The Police or Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, you'll be driving up Interstate 25 for an hour or so.
For those who care about higher education, the assortment here would compare favorably with that in almost any same-sized city. Obviously, the Air Force Academy is more of a national institution, but the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Colorado College, Pikes Peak Community College, Colorado Technical University and the local campus of Regis University provide sufficient choices for students not wanting to leave.
In the spirit of full disclosure, we'd be remiss not to mention the warts.
The area has its divisive issues, both political and moral, including subjects that other cities moved beyond long ago. That list starts with the acceptance and tolerance of homosexuality, acknowledging different views on war and government, and how to deal with (and control) the explosion of growth throughout the region.
Oh, and did we mention traffic? Every city worth its salt has to be No. 1 in something. Credible research has "honored" Colorado Springs as having the worst traffic of any 500,000-people-or-smaller city in America. Just spend a few rush hours at Woodmen and Academy, or Austin Bluffs and Union, and you'll understand why.
So, with all this established, does one commonality unite practically all the people who live in or around the Springs?
Looks like we wind up back where we started: with the mountains, the sunshine, the standard of living. Everyone appreciates the quality of life, even if the priorities and details might vary from person to person and neighborhood to neighborhood.
For many of us, residing here is the result of a conscious decision, choosing this place over the chance (or the previous experience) of making more money and/or enjoying more culture elsewhere.
That's not a characteristic you would find in many cities across America.
It's a fact of life here in Colorado Springs.