Colorado Springs 2300

Way back in the late '60s, when yours truly was pretending (and not very successfully) to be an investment banker in New York City, the prevailing philosophy was pretty simple. You bought the stocks of the "nifty 50" -- the 50 leading growth companies in the world -- and sat back and watched the money roll in. It was called "one-decision investing." All the leading investment gurus subscribed to the theory, half-cocked as it now may seem. Yup, companies like Polaroid, Xerox and IBM would continue their rapid growth for years, for decades -- forever!

But then some sour-faced party pooper -- I think his name was Warren Buffett -- unkindly pointed out that, if the nifty 50 continued to grow at the same pace for the next 20 years, their sales would surpass the projected gross national product of the United States (and Canada, and Western Europe). Clearly, that wasn't about to happen, and now the nifty 50 are nifty no more, just a bunch of aging techno-dinosaurs, largely irrelevant in markets they once dominated.

Stock markets move quickly, but societies change more slowly, absent catastrophic war. Here in Colorado Springs, most of us subscribe to the EDC-Chamber of Commerce School of Economics. We believe that growth, sensibly regulated, drives the region's prosperity. We want our politicians to make sure that we have enough water, gas and electricity to support that growth. We're all immigrants, after all, and we understand that we can't just slam the door on people who want live in our beautiful city.

And we believe we can keep it beautiful. That's why we've voted to tax ourselves to preserve open space, build new parks and upgrade our transportation system.

But as Save the Springs' Dave Gardner, our own cheerfully exasperated party pooper, has pointed out, growth has to stop eventually. Just assume that our historic rate of population growth continues, and run the numbers. What will Colorado Springs look like 50 years from now? 100 years from now? 300?

Based on our current growth rate of 1.775 percent, in 50 years, 10 million people will live in Colorado, and about 1.3 million of 'em will call the Springs home. In 100 years, we'll have 30 million Coloradans, and 4.5 million Springsites. And by 2316, some 147,636,224 souls will be packed like sardines into the Pikes Peak region.

It's hard to imagine what such a world might look like. Cross present-day Baghdad with Blade Runner and The Matrix, I guess -- poor, violent, barren and miserable.

But it can't happen, can it? Sure it can, and it probably will, unless we, the citizens of Colorado Springs in 2005, make a few minor changes.

Think of the city as a supertanker. If you try to make a sudden course correction, nothing will happen for a while. The ship will plow steadily along -- and then react unpredictably. So you change course with tiny, incremental rudder movements. The ship changes her heading, and nobody aboard even notices.

In politics, it's easy to act for the distant future, as long as your actions have no effect upon the welfare of today's voters. Dave Gardner's nightmarish numbers need not come true -- all we have to do is figure out what small actions we can take, as individuals and as governments, to maintain the beauty and prosperity of the place we call home.

And how should we do this? Right now, time is on our side. The debate needs to be about the future, about our role as stewards of the city. The numbers don't care about your beliefs, your passions or your hopes. The numbers tell us that, if we care at all about the future, local population growth has to slow, and stop.

So how do we start this debate? Round up the usual suspects, and let 'em scream at each other about zero population growth, immigration, birth control and sustainable agricultural policies? That would accomplish exactly nothing.

How about starting a whole new endeavor? Let's call it "Colorado Springs 2300," and, from our privileged perch in time and place, lend a helping hand to those who, eight generations hence, will sit where we now sit.

-- johnhazlehurst@earthlink.net


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