Sunday, October 26, 2014

Professional Priorities

Posted By on Sun, Oct 26, 2014 at 8:44 AM

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The young professional discussion has been a hot topic in the Springs since I moved here in 2006. It’s a barometer of growth for a city and it seems like we are trying to keep up with Denver — at least that's what the politicians always tell us. But we are failing miserably at actually attracting, let alone retaining, young professionals.

An article written this week in the New York Times gives us some pretty good insight. The article titled "Where Young College Graduates are Choosing to Live" touts Denver as the top place for college grads to live saying, "Its population of the young and educated is up 47 percent since 2000, nearly double the percentage increase in the New York metro area."

Those are impressive numbers to say the least.

You may be asking yourself why Denver instead of us, we have similar climates and we're closer to the mountains?

According to the Times, "Denver has many of the tangible things young people want… mountains, sunshine and jobs in booming industries like tech… ones that give cities the perception of cultural cool, like microbreweries and bike-sharing and an acceptance of marijuana and same-sex marriage."

"Cultural Cool." That's a fun term, right? Is that Colorado Springs? Well, no. As a whole it certainly isn’t.

We have "cultural cool" places like Downtown, Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs, and great microbreweries — arguably better than those in Denver, in my biased opinion — too. And we're working on bike sharing under City Council's Jill Gaebler — that’ll be fantastic, especially for tourism.

The state as a whole has same-sex marriage now. But does, or will, Colorado Springs ever fully embrace that? I seriously doubt it. I’d argue that our community has a "tolerance" of marijuana, but certainly not like Denver's.

I conduct a lot of development work in Denver, more so than in the Springs, and I get the chance to hear a lot of reactions as I speak with the young professionals, and of course the not-so-young. The reoccurring reaction that I hear when I say that I live and work in Colorado Springs is, “Sorry.” I laugh, but on occasion, I ask why they’re sorry — it’s an amazing place.

It’s always the same complaint; it’s a political mess. Granted Denver is a much, much more liberal city than Colorado Springs, but these conversations are typically with red-blooded Conservatives with similar values to the majority of the population in Colorado Springs. They elaborate to say that when they are in the Springs, they see the political billboards, newspapers, TV, and the ridiculous wasting of money with airplanes flying banners about a "rain tax." This turns people away. I agree with my Denver colleagues, it is a political mess. And I tuck my tail and promptly change the subject, thereby owning the defeat. It sucks, and it makes we want to pack up the house and move to Denver, quite frankly. But I won't, I like it here.

Colorado Springs IS a gorgeous place and we’re blessed with such natural beauty in our backyard and have the same awesome climate Denver has — without the smog. We still maintain that small-town feel where you're likely to see known faces when you get out and around town. We have fantastic schools — which Denver does not, by the way — and we still have government offices and staff that are helpful and encouraging. I typically interact with our Planning Department, as do my colleagues. The majority of us agree, Colorado Springs Planning Department and engineering staff are the most friendly and courteous to work with along the Front Range.

When it comes to young professionals, Colorado Springs may not be that great, good, or even average at attracting them, but — politics aside — we are arguably the BEST city in the United States for families.

Instead of constantly comparing ourselves to Denver and trying to catch up with them, let's embrace and strengthen what we already have. Let’s make the Springs great for PEOPLE (young, old, rich, poor, black, white, etc.), so when their young pros age into their 30s and 40s they'll have the easy choice to move to the BEST city for families.

John Olson is a licensed landscape architect, residing in Colorado Springs. He serves as the Director of Planning and Landscape Architecture for EVstudio Planning & Civil Engineering. He is also a co-founder of Colorado Springs Urban Intervention, which implemented Better Block Pikes Peak in 2012, the recent Walkability Signage found in Downtown Colorado Springs, and perhaps most notably, Curbside Cuisine.

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