Sunday, August 16, 2015

Defining downtown

Posted By on Sun, Aug 16, 2015 at 7:00 AM

click to enlarge Old Colorado City - JOHN OLSON
  • John Olson
  • Old Colorado City
What is "downtown," the heart and soul of Colorado Springs?

I think you'd be fascinated to hear all the different responses to this question. Sure, there are legal, geographical boundaries that define downtown (see the Downtown Development Authority, Downtown Business Improvement District, etc.) — though even those aren't consistent. At one point, I was even told that the First and Main area, the shopping center at Powers and Carefree, is considered downtown. 

Personally, I don't think that geographical definitions of downtown are worth arguing over. Sometimes what one considers downtown is an area that person generally associates with a date night or evening out, or just a place where friends can gather in a happenstance manner. Even the Merriam-Webster definition — "... of, in, or characteristic of the central area or main business and commercial area of a town or city" — is fraught. The central area implies that every city or town only has one downtown, but most major American cities have annexed, or acquired other towns, hamlets and independent communities (and their downtowns).

Colorado Springs has annexed its fair share, if not beyond its fair share. We have west Colorado Springs, Old Colorado City, Ivywild, Broadmoor, the North End, and Roswell, just to name a few near our "downtown." The identities of some of these areas remain preserved, most notably Old Colorado City in and around Bancroft Park. But does the fact that these places were annexed mean that they have to forego their own "downtowns"? 

The neighborhood nodes like these — including prior town centers, newly renovated mixed-use buildings, and newly constructed community hubs — are critical for cities. Each impactful node permeates a demand for the land uses surrounding them, creating, in effect, a downtown community.

Residents of the modern-day west side may consider historic Old Colorado City as their downtown, as it's the heart and soul of their community. Likewise, residents of Ivywild may consider the redeveloped Ivywild School as their downtown, while those along the Powers corridor may claim First and Main.

Are any of these assertions wrong? No, it's just a matter of scale.

If I was a resident of Stetson Hills, First and Main would be absolutely critical to the vitality of my sub-community. And downtown and other prominent city nodes are just as critical. We're all in this together.

What is the major node of Colorado Springs, given everything said? Is it Downtown Colorado Springs as we know it?

What is the major node of the Pikes Peak region? Where is the "central area or main business and commercial area" of the Pikes Peak region?

Difficult questions, right? When we discuss the heart and soul of the city — and, by association, our heritage — downtown as defined by, say, the Downtown Partnership's jurisdictional boundaries cannot suffice. Our heritage has to include Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs. They are both as important as, if not more important than, downtown to the heritage of Colorado Springs. Sure, Manitou Springs' downtown is a separate jurisdiction, but it is a true gem and our tourism hub of the region.

Many, including myself, say that we must take care of the heart of the city. But are we all talking about the same places?

John Olson is a licensed Landscape Architect, working and residing in Colorado Springs. He serves as the Director of Urban Design and Landscape for Altitude Land Consultants, formerly doing business as EV Studio Civil Engineering + Planning. He has a strong passion for our region and directs it through the business and the non-profit, Colorado Springs Urban Intervention.

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