The city-state at war

Let's go back to the Colorado Springs of, say, 80 years ago. It was a prosperous little city, with a thriving downtown, peaceful neighborhoods, good schools, dozens of churches and a spectacular park system. It was, by all accounts, a great place to live as is the bustling metropolis that has replaced it.

That little city of the 1920s was intimately linked to the surrounding countryside. Truck farms in Fountain Valley supplied local grocery stores with fresh vegetables, while other farmers and ranchers assured Springs residents of a steady supply of beef, fowl, pork and lamb. If the city prospered, so did the countryside, and vice versa, as farmers and ranchers came to town to buy everything from farm implements to Sunday dresses.

This pattern, repeated in thousands of towns and cities throughout America, was the basis of our economy for centuries, until technology intervened.

By the 1950s, local agriculture had shrunken dramatically. Refrigeration and massive irrigation projects meant that most of our food came from somewhere else.

And now? Aside from a few organic farms, and a couple ranches, the countryside lies barren and fallow. Ranches are no longer ranches; they're just tracts of land waiting to be developed. The historic links between city and country are broken, as are those between Colorado Springs and the rest of the state.

And that's not unique to us. Every city of any size is now an island, a kind of city-state, at war with its unincorporated suburbs and other cities.

Let's look at the real politics of Colorado, as opposed to the largely illusory politics that we read about, the Kabuki theater of Republicans and Democrats doing their little dances.

Cities don't have foreign policies or do they? If a foreign policy means creating alliances with other city-states, defending your vital interests and outmaneuvering your foes, then they certainly do.

Our vital interests: assuring our water supplies, keeping control of our utilities system and tax revenues, maintaining/increasing our job base and retaining the ability to expand our borders through annexation.

Our foes: Pueblo, because it may be able to deny us the water we so desperately want; the Western Slope, because those residents know we want to steal their water; Denver, Boulder, Aurora and the I-70 corridor, because they've historically joined together to grab the lion's share of state transportation money; the unincorporated suburbs and towns of northern and southern El Paso County, because they don't pay city taxes and want our water.

Our allies: Dumbo elected officials from other jurisdictions who do what we want in the Legislature, forgetting the core interests of their own constituents; farmers and ranchers in the Arkansas Valley, who've sold us their water rights for peanuts; Denver and Aurora, on the single issue of a trans-mountain water diversion from the Western Slope; the military and Christian nonprofits, who, because we've made 'em feel comfortable and have creatively addressed their needs, have continually expanded their economic presence in the city.

See a pattern here? The countryside no longer supports us in any meaningful way. We get our fruits and vegetables from Mexico and Chile, our beef from Iowa or Argentina, our lamb from New Zealand, etc. Ancient city-states both protected and depended upon their countryside, but for us, the countryside's irrelevant.

Fountain Creek's useful only for sewage discharge, not for irrigating crops. Pueblo's not a friendly neighbor we'd be better off if it disappeared tomorrow and we could start work on the water pipeline. And Denver? A black hole sucking up our tax dollars, our smart kids, our artists, our entrepreneurs and our entertainment dollars.

Think of us as a pirate ship, aground on the high plains, uncomfortably sharing the state with a half-dozen other pirate ships, and doing our best to get our share of the loot. It's a tough, nasty, non-ideological game, one that Congressman Joel Hefley played on our behalf in Washington for 20 years and one that his successor had better master in a hurry.

And of all the wannabes, one who really knows the game is Mayor Lionel Rivera. If he can scam Pueblo into supporting the pipeline, he deserves to take over the pirate ship the new admiral of the ocean sea.


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