Stop the local self-pity 

Between the Lines

The obvious first impulse, upon looking closely at the 2010 Quality of Life Indicators report for Colorado Springs, would be to shudder in fear.

• We've added 90,000 people to our population over the past decade, but we have 2,000 fewer civilian jobs.

These aren't just opinions or observations. They're solid, sad facts, assembled by many local people who care about our city and want it to be a wonderful place to live for generations to come.

• Our "Business Conditions Index," based on 100 in March 2001, is at 81 now. And our workforce is earning less. Since March 2001, real salaries and wages in El Paso County have dropped 10 percent.

These findings comprise the largest single serving of bad news that Colorado Springs and El Paso County have encountered in modern times.

• We've lost about 12,000 "primary jobs," the kind that bring outside money, and other jobs, into the community, in 2008 and 2009 alone, and 12,000-plus local manufacturing jobs vanished between 2001 and 2009.

But wait. Look at all of the sobering, bullet-point summaries in these alternate paragraphs and ask yourself: How much of this is truly a surprise?

• El Paso County residents use methamphetamine at a rate 40 to 50 percent higher than other large counties in Colorado — a trend that has been ongoing for several years. Yet our public health spending, and what we spend to battle substance abuse, are far below large-population Colorado counties and the national average.

For anyone paying attention, this news should've been expected. The deterioration has been visible and well-documented. Many stories have laid out consequences of our local governments not being able to provide the same level of services. But many haven't seemed to care unless they were affected.

• Today, 75 percent of our need for electricity is met by burning coal in power plants — only 9 percent comes from renewable sources.

We've actually been lucky, because we nurtured a superb quality of life over the years. We agreed to spend money on trails, parks and open space, as well as on building much-needed thoroughfares around the metro area. We maintained our streets and public spaces. Because of that and more, the slow erosion might have been more difficult for some to notice.

• We have seen a 63 percent increase in the number of children living in poverty from 2000-2008, an increase of over 9,000 kids in eight years.

Many naysayers will look at this report card and instantly blame our elected leaders. But that's not appropriate. In reality, no single office-holder or group has caused this predicament. There's no scandal here. Everyone has contributed, and the economy has exacerbated the impact.

• Our level of suicides in the 15-19 age group is almost 80 percent higher than the national average, and our suicide rate among males 25-54 is higher than for the rest of Colorado.

The real challenge is in what happens next. Actually, the Quality of Life Indicators effort itself offers an opportunity — it's already assembled groups of experts in each area. They offer many suggestions in the report, but should reconvene and prioritize their thinking.

• The hours of service for our bus system have been cut in half in 2010 because of reduced funding from the city. And the number of air passengers using our airport slipped to about 997,000 in 2009, the lowest since the new terminal opened in late 1994.

Meanwhile, it would behoove others to join this conversation. We should expect responses from both sides of the strong-mayor question. Any candidates for mayor, county commissioner or City Council should weigh in. You can, too, after accessing the full report at pikespeakqualityoflife.org.

Colorado Springs still has more going for it than a lot of other places. But fixing our problems, and rebuilding this city for the future, means going far beyond dreams and fantasies. This comeback needs a thorough strategy.

We also will have to pay for it.


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