Why look at other cities? 

City Sage

Austin. Charlotte. Oklahoma City. Our peerless Colorado Springs leaders have visited all three, and now they are preparing to head for Oregon and prowl the streets of Portland.

Will they learn anything? Will they come back ready to mobilize our apathetic citizenry to new heights of civic endeavor? Will we make our city worthy of its location at the foot of Pikes Peak?

Save the airfare, guys, and go check out our neighbors.

The revitalization of Pueblo's riverwalk and downtown has been ongoing for two decades, still astonishing those who remember the sorry, broken city of 25 years ago.

Boulder has transformed itself from an insular university town to the nation's coolest city, a mecca for entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

And Denver, its economy in ruins after the oil and real estate bust of the 1980s, has recovered to become a great American city, a world-class metropolis beside the mountains.

There's only one detail that separates us from all those cities. Their citizens agreed to tax themselves to fund urban renovation projects of a scale and duration that would utterly dismay our timid voters. And that's not going to change, given this city's demographics. As Mayor Steve Bach is fond of pointing out, we're old and getting older.

Colorado is among the national leaders for in-migration from other states, and first in attracting new residents between the ages of 25 and 44. So Colorado Springs should be getting younger. But it's not. Those young folks head for Denver and Front Range cities from there northward, and to the Western Slope, while more military retirees head here.

Those retirees are good citizens, good neighbors, good friends and eager volunteers for local nonprofits. But they're deeply conservative folks on fixed incomes who tend to be skeptical of airy-fairy urban renewal schemes.

In 1888, California artist Thaddeus Welch set up his easel next to Fountain Creek, about where 31st Street now intersects U.S. Highway 24, and painted what he saw — a clear, meandering stream at the foot of Pikes Peak bordered by meadows shaded by enormous cottonwoods. That bucolic vista has given way to aging commercial development backing up to a narrow, trash-strewn waterway.

What should we do about it? We could sweep away decades of debris, buy out the trailer parks, junkyards and slaughterhouses that line the creek, and create a linear park from Manitou to America the Beautiful Park. We could have a streetcar system and rebuild parts of downtown to attract those young adults moving to Colorado — but it would cost a lot of money.

So we won't. We think small, we act small.

Look at the city-owned Martin Drake Power Plant. Leveling it should be a no-brainer; who would describe a coal-fired plant as an asset to downtown? But there it sits, and if plans don't change, there it will sit.

Colorado Springs Utilities is ready to spend more than $100 million to install pollution controls at the plant, a sum that could start building a new gas-fired unit at the Nixon complex south of the city. Never mind that fixing up Drake makes as much long-term sense as restoring your 1938 Ford to make a daily commute to Denver. In the short term, coal is cheap, the old oxide-belcher still runs, and Utilities doesn't want electric bills to go up.

But why be surprised? This is a city so afraid of the future that leaders nixed the proposed Tour of Colorado Springs cycling event, in part because someone might get hurt and sue the city.

Yes to a downtown power plant, no to a cycling event, little hope for modernizing projects ... is it any wonder Colorado's young-adult newcomers don't venture south of Denver?

Willful inaction trumps the pipe dream of action. We can only look enviously at Oklahoma City, where voters approved $777 million to finance parks, trails, a convention center and streetcars.

What, $777 million? Are they nuts?

We'll just muddle along, live our lives and forget our wistful dreams. Most of us may never live to see Colorado Springs burst into flower — no yellow brick road, no Emerald City, no Land of Oz.

As Shel Silverstein once wrote: "Maybe someday you can go to Detroit."

Dream on, Dorothy ...


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