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Time for new priorities 

City Sage

Last weekend I had a brief conversation with one of our city's leading young (or semi-young) philanthropists. She's one of a handful of go-to donors in the community, a person who works tirelessly to support an array of nonprofits.

"We're the generation that will succeed the Kathy and Gary Loos," she said, "but there aren't enough of us. We go to Denver or somewhere else. Everyone goes to Denver. Sometimes I think that the city is finished. If Fort Carson closes, that's it. Forget Colorado Springs."

Is she right? I don't think so.

During an interview a couple of years ago, Air Force Academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson spoke of the "interwar period," a time when the United States was disengaging militarily and the world was perceived as messy but relatively peaceful.

That's no longer the case. Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un and ISIS have reminded us that the world can shift from messy to chaotic and dangerous in a few weeks. The long-discredited warriors of the George W. Bush administration are on the talk-show circuit once again, old warhorses whinnying and snorting at the distant sound of cannons.

We may not go to war, but it's hard to believe that we'll continue the recession-driven policies of military downsizing.

So let's not worry about Fort Carson — and let's not worry about Denver, either.

Colorado's capital city is in the midst of an unprecedented boom. As the Denver Post reported Sunday, metro-area developers are launching a dozen massive residential developments on the suburban fringe. At build-out, the plans will add more than 30,000 new homes to the Denver metro area.

Developers respond to perceived market demand, and the Denver market is arguably the nation's hottest.

"Just 4,079 homes were available for sale [in the metro area] at the end of February ... That's only a quarter of the 12-year average of 16,717 homes available for sale at year's end," John Aguilar reported in the Sunday Post.

Aguilar noted that Denver's median home prices have leapt 14.7 percent in the past year to $286,500, and that rents have increased by 10.2 percent.

What Denver has done is remarkable. Thanks to the rebirth of LoDo and the redevelopment of Stapleton Airport and Lowry Air Force Base, as well as other areas along the South Platte River near its downtown, that city has literally run out of infill. Yet so attractive is the area, so abundant are the opportunities, and so frothy is the jobs market, that growth continues, this time in self-contained suburban communities that will be urban in spirit and form — walkable, bike-friendly and transit-oriented.

Colorado Springs still is struggling with the consequences of urban flight in the second half of the 20th century. Urban neighborhoods such as the west side, Hillside, Stratton Meadows and Ivywild have suffered. Neighborhood schools have closed as the population has aged — today, only 20 percent of School District 11 residents have school-age children. The small houses, tiny lots and crumbling infrastructure aren't attractive to young families, while the long recession has taken its toll. Ivywild Elementary is now a brewery and performance space (among other things), while Bates Elementary is slated to be made into student housing for UCCS.

But while we're struggling, the world moves forward. We need to adapt.

We know we need to work on infill — but what about outfill? As our local economy recovers, we'll need to help suburban developers build modern communities linked to the city's core by fast, attractive public transit.

Why not a comprehensive light-rail system, one that would connect Banning Lewis Ranch, Briargate and the suburban periphery to downtown? It would be an expensive 20-year project, which would drastically reshape and reimagine our city. Instead of a Constitution Avenue Freeway, for example, we could run light rail down the existing railroad right-of-way that parallels Constitution. At build-out, the system would join, rebrand and revive our dispersed, polycentric community.

We'd have a powerful new identity, that of a unified city moving toward the future. It'd be a nice change from today's sour defeatism, and the Denver Post would take note. I can see the lead.

"Denver-area young professionals head south to booming Colorado Springs, reversing 20-year trend. They're welcome, says Mayor Michelle Johnson..."

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