Public Eye 

Phew am I relieved. All these years, I've been worried about the effect of sprawl on Colorado Springs: Ya know -- traffic, higher taxes, overcrowded schools, smoggy air. Well, I just read the latest Executive Fax from the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corporation and, boy, am I breathing easier.

Turns out Colorado Springs isn't sprawling at all. "Colorado Springs is last on a list of 271 metropolitan cities with populations over 250,000," the EDC release trumpets. "That's good news."

The "list" that the EDC claims rates urban sprawl, turns out, was generated by USA Today, the Gannett-owned national daily, which compared growth among U.S. cities. Lightened by this optimistic news, I headed to the paper's Web site (www.sprawl.usatoday.com) where the study is published.

Thankfully, USA Today's analysis boiled this complex social and economic issue down into a series of bite-sized info-nuggets and graphics so I wouldn't be confused by too much information. Even better, the entire analysis was based on just two numbers: the current density of each metro area and the percentage by which that density changed between 1990 and 1999. The numbers were based mainly on U.S. Census data.

Doubly relieved that I wouldn't have to think about more than two numbers at once, I continued down the list to Colorado Springs.

Our little city, it tells us, has a population of 498,097. Because roughly 89 percent of Springs residents currently live in what the census defines as an "urbanized area," the city gets a relative good score of 17 on density (that's on a scale of 1 to 271, with 1 being the best). The idea behind the score is that development in "urban areas" isn't sprawl. Got it?

And because the percentage of people living in this urban core only changed by one-fifth of 1 percent between 1990 and 1999, our fair city gets another high score of 38 on the "density-change" side of the equation.

Feeling better already, aren't you? The problem with me, and others concerned about sprawl, is that we simply didn't realize that all those new subdivisions are, in fact, the inner city simply because they're built within official city limits.

So who does have a problem with sprawl under the USA Today analysis? Well, here in Colorado, it turns out that Pueblo has the worst sprawl, followed by Grand Junction, Fort Collins and finally -- in second-to-last-place -- the "urban area" that described only as "Denver-Boulder-Greeley." (Footnote: Guess which city the newspaper listed as having some of the least sprawl in California? You got it: "Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County.")

Thank God USA Today has finally set the record straight on this sprawl thing. I was getting downright worried. And thank goodness the real-estate lobby has managed to scuttle any meaningful growth laws in Colorado. Such laws would only deprive us of a chance to build suburbs of our own and take away yet another reason to feel superior to Pueblo, "Denver-Boulder-Greeley," and, of course, "Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County."


Call the 'Suburbinator'

Meanwhile, the debate over growth legislation in our state capitol has gotten downright vicious. The latest loogie lobbed in this ugly spitfest came from Democrats, who ran radio ads claiming that Republicans were in the pockets of developers.

Who should the Republicans need to call to avenge this outrageous insult? The Suburbinator, that's who. The cartoon character is the brainchild of Ohio-based TriAd Marketing Group, and it symbolizes environmentalists, who, TriAd suggests, are forcing people from their cars and marching them lock-step to downtown artists' lofts.

But that's the soft stuff. Recently, TriAd began airing ads in Atlanta that imply environmentalists there are communists because they're fighting federal highway expansion plans. Environmentalists, it turns out, want some of the money for highways diverted to mass transit, and they favor land-use and planning policies that encourage less driving (among other commie plots). The ads are being paid for by the Georgia Federal Contractors Association, which stands to lose beaucoup gummint bucks for road-building projects if the Green Meanies win out.

One ad quotes a Korean War vet saying environmentalists are acting just like the Korean communists he fought decades ago and are "preventing us from driving our cars and forcing us to live downtown."

Hmm. Really? Preventing you from driving? Forcing you to live downtown? Communists? Let's me get this straight. You want to live in the country, but you want a big-paying job in the city. If other people don't want to fork over their money to build wider and wider roads for you -- at the expense of any other possible solution -- they're communists?

Republicans trying to kill growth legislation here might consider calling TriAd. But then again, why bother? USA Today has already declared the local sprawl issue moot, and you can't buy better PR than that.


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