A common motto I've heard among the Front Range anti-growth crowd is, "We want cows, not condos!" I understand the sentiment, but what these people don't understand is that the motto doesn't work; it's not one or the other.
Some claim more should be done to prevent the "Denverization" of Colorado Springs. There are so many in El Paso County who demonize Denver and demonize growth, and they simply don't get it. They say the city and all its ills are the result of growth that was too rapid, growth that has exceeded the city's ability to plan for many years. Growth is criticized as a drain on city coffers, since constant infrastructure improvements are necessary to support it.
The thing is, Colorado Springs as we know it is not the result of a lack of planning or foresight. Indeed, the vast majority of the city has been carefully planned, all according to the will of a few land developers who have embraced, wholly and to the extreme, modernist and irresponsible American urban dynamics.
Ever wonder why the traffic is so bad here and why public transportation is such a joke? All a result of planning. Modern neighborhoods are designed to have streets that make no sense and only connect in one or two places to a few major arterials on which all traffic is dumped. This, combined with awkward geography, a lack of limited-access freeways and low population density, has made this place the way it is.
If you love open space and public transportation, you should want "Denverization." Denver is responsible growth. Colorado Springs is not.
Food for thought: Denver has almost 4,000 people per square mile, and that increases when you subtract the international airport. Colorado Springs has fewer than 2,000 people per square mile, and it's one of the least-dense major cities in the country.
Denver has an adequate freeway network and a complete street grid, making navigation simple and evenly distributing traffic across more and smaller streets, which makes the city far more pedestrian-friendly and actually makes traffic better, for the most part. It also makes public transportation there viable and effective, something that could never be the case even in 50 years in this city, outside of downtown and the Old North End.
When people try to prevent condos, they're not preventing growth. The growth will still happen. Instead of condos, however, you get low-density tract housing, which takes up significantly more space and requires significantly more money to supply infrastructure for the same amount of people. It is a lose-lose situation.
The sentiments toward growth here are ironic in that they are incompatible with conservative fiscal attitudes. Colorado Springs must spend significantly more per capita on everything because there is no density and no contiguity between neighborhoods. This means more spending to provide the same level of services to the population. Growth is not the problem; growth done wrongly is the problem.
And considering El Paso County's property tax is almost five times less than the average for the state's nine largest counties, and the fact that Colorado Springs has a double dose of TABOR-ratcheting with which to deal, it's no wonder that we suddenly lack the money to pay for such things as watering the parks and a Fourth of July fireworks show.
The city, the concept of the city, is fundamental to the human condition and to the civilized condition. We have cities for a reason. Cities that try to serve the purposes of both rural and urban, and cities that depend on the car to serve those purposes, succeed in doing neither.
We need to move back to the human scale. We need infill development. And we need it now.
Perhaps in 50 years, things will change. And for people who actually prefer to live in a city, things will be much improved.
If Colorado Springs ever wants to become a livable, decent city, the best thing it can do is try really hard to be just like Denver.
Drew Willsey is an economics major at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
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