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Best of times, worst of times

Herewith, with apologies to Charles Dickens, a tale of two cities. Fifty years ago, one of the cities was easily the most beautiful small city in America -- nestled at the foot of Pikes Peak, with broad, tree-lined streets, a magnificent Victorian downtown, and quiet, friendly neighborhoods. The other, 40 miles to the south, was a smoky industrial workplace, poor and polluted, dominated by hulking steel mills, and whose tough, gritty working-class neighborhoods featured a bar on every block.

The city to the north, whose streets were lined with mansions built by millionaire mining barons, had a beautiful arts center, a wondrous opera house and a spectacular resort hotel.

But the city to the south, ugly and unprepossessing, was loved only by its inhabitants -- folks who were made fun of for their proud, insular and clannish ways.

The city to the north grew and prospered. The quiet streets grew busy; malls and shopping centers sprouted in the newly created suburbs; the Victorian downtown was largely razed in the name of "progress"; the once-imposing arts center came to seem small and shabby; the Burns Opera House fell to the wrecker's ball. Ever so gradually, the city to the north became just another collection of strip centers, cookie-cutter housing developments, fast-food outlets and every chain store known to America. It became, in short, a city like any other -- reasonably prosperous, reasonably pleasant to live in, but nothing special; an Akron of the Rockies, so to speak.

For decades, the city to the south struggled, as the steel mills slowly closed down and jobs vanished. But then things began to change. The central business district, which featured hundreds of Victorian commercial buildings -- most thought so valueless that they weren't even worth tearing down -- began to revive. Thanks to a variety of public and private initiatives, the city created two new museums, a spectacular new library, a convention center, and a stunning "riverwalk. " Today, the city's lively, renovated downtown is the envy of its northern neighbor.

City to the north: us. City to the south: Pueblo. This was the city that, growing up in Colorado Springs, we used to call P.U. town 'cause it just stunk. Like the ugly duckling, Pueblo has grown into a beauty. Its citizens, intensely proud of their city and its heritage, have become both devoted preservationists and ardent boosters. Across the street from the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center, for example, a derelict, long-disused square block of brick commercial buildings is currently being lovingly renovated by one of Pueblo's native sons. It'd probably make a lot more sense, businesswise, to rip it down and put up a 7-11; but that's not gonna happen.

All over Pueblo, you have the sense that the good guys are winning, and the hard times are gone for good. I don't think we're going to call it P.U. town any more; maybe Santa Fe in the Rockies instead.

Meanwhile, just look at us in Colorado Springs. Comparatively, we're bigger, we're richer, we're more sophisticated. By any objective measure, we're far more successful. But there's something missing; like the Tin Man, we don't have a heart.

What, after all, do you make of a city whose leaders, far from embarking on bold, visionary plans to build museums and convention centers, are apparently prepared to sell our historic auditorium to the highest bidder (or, worse still, the lowest!). What do you make of a city whose leaders casually toss out a decades-old city horticultural program, while continuing a multimillion-dollar taxpayer-financed subsidy of the visitor industry? What do you make of a city whose leaders, far from requiring growth to pay its own way, propose to finance it by doubling utility bills over the next few years?

There's a difference between our two cities, the tin city to the north and the steel city to the south. Pueblo's citizens, and the leaders whom they've chosen, have a goal and a vision -- as in, let's make Pueblo the best small city in the country. We, and the leaders whom we've chosen, look at things differently -- as in, let's balance the books, let's patch the potholes, let's cut taxes, let's defund government.

Our city, once so full of energetic optimism, has become sour, quarrelsome and defeated -- unable to either hold on to the past or move into the future. Pueblo's a community; the kind of place that we have been and can become once again.

If we don't wise up, we should throw out our city mission statement (remember? Trying to become a "World-Class City") and substitute a new one ...

For sale.

-- jhazlehurst@csindy.com

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