Novel concept: grow economically but not physically

Filed under: Hazlehurst |

Last week’s CSBJ View said that Colorado Avenue was formerly called Huerfano. Well, Dave Hughes sent our editor an e-mail pointing out that we weren’t exactly correct.
Dave wrote:
“… Colorado Springs always tried to take credit for things that happened in Colorado City long before the Springs existed. In fact, Colorado Avenue was laid out on the Fosdick Plat of Colorado City on Nov. 1, 1859 … Colorado Springs when it was founded in 1871 named its joining Street ‘Huerfano’ right to the western city limit of Colorado Springs. Same road, different names. (In fact, Gen. William Jackson Palmer chose Spanish names for many of his east-west streets) Just as ‘downtown’ tried for a century to ignore rough and tumble Colorado City, it would never have named one of its streets after Old Town’s. Only after Colorado City voted dry in 1913, and then, dead broke, in a bitter election of 1917, dissolved itself as a city, Colorado Springs annexed the new ‘westside,’ incorporating the original Colorado City. Then Colorado Springs changed its connecting Huerfano Street name from downtown to Colorado Avenue!”
Thanks, Dave!
Now, let’s consider the most thought-provoking part of Dave’s e-mail.
He wrote that “I would like you to think about the really fundamental economics of the information age. I pushed for the economic future of this entire region being fueled by … individuals and very small businesses, many working only from their home-offices and not just big real estate buildings, to export their brainpower, and import dollars …
“The idea that Colorado Springs could grow economically without just growing physically is just too advanced for this city that lives in the business past.”
Hmmmm, “to grow economically without growing physically”?
That’s a concept that has become increasingly attractive to planners, politicians and advocates of sustainable growth. In theory, it makes sense.
Given our outlandish dependence upon imported energy, as well as the havoc wreaked on the world environment by continued conventional development, shouldn’t we take full advantage of today’s technology to lessen our impact upon the natural world? Shouldn’t we, as a city, embrace and support telecommuting, teleconferencing and resource conservation of all kinds?
Shouldn’t we grow vertically, rather than sprawl horizontally?
The arguments for such courses of action are compelling. The arguments against are not — in fact, they may sound parochial and foolish.
But that’s because any status quo can seem stodgy, boring and eminently discardable.
Our sprawling suburbs, linked by crowded arterials lined with big-box retailers, scarcely inspire love. Springs residents are quick to express their affection for Pikes Peak, Wood Avenue and Old Colorado City — but have you ever heard anyone say how much they love Academy Boulevard?
And even those of us who live in the midst of suburban sprawl are often slightly apologetic, as in “I had to be in District 20,” or “I wanted to buy in the North End, but I needed a bigger house.”
In fact, the city could get along perfectly well without Wood Avenue, without old Colorado City and even without Pikes Peak. Those places, wonderful as they might be, are superfluous — the icing on the cake. The beating heart of the city is not at the intersection of Pikes Peak Avenue and Tejon Street, as it was half a century ago, but along the vibrant, disorderly and unloved eastern corridors.
Academy and Powers boulevards. The malls, the strip centers, the Wal-Marts. The tens of thousands of homes that radiate from the eastern corridors and the thousands of homes that are built each year.
That’s what powers our economy, provides jobs and creates the city.
You can argue that such an economy is unsustainable, that it’s wasteful and that it will eventually collapse. But such arguments are based on the fallacious belief that the system is inherently inefficient and will crumble under its own weight. In other words, the modern American consumer economy is, like the former Soviet Union, a dinosaur ambling toward extinction.
Maybe so. But remember that dinosaurs were highly efficient, marvelously evolved creatures whose sudden extermination was the result of catastrophic environmental changes.
Like the dinosaurs, our economy is perfectly suited to its time. In an era of unprecedented global prosperity, relative peace and extraordinary opportunity, most of us can afford spacious single-family detached houses, as well as consumer goods that our parents could not have imagined.
It’s conceivable, of course, that all this prosperity will disappear — that it’s a momentary bubble, and that our future will look more like Mumbai than Dubai.
But I don’t think so.
Change happens slowly and incrementally, as millions of folks react to the circumstances of their daily lives. Historically, the marketplace absorbs, adapts and re-creates itself. If mini-cars and high-rise living replace SUVs and suburbia, it will be because of objective changes in the economic environment — not because of governmental fiat or a new city comprehensive plan.
And in such a brave new world, one thing is certain: lots of agile entrepreneurs will anticipate the changes and make money from them — including, I’d guess, most of the dinosaurs who built suburban Colorado Springs.
And a final thought: as Jeffery Epstein has pointed out, our concern with the widening gap between the very rich and the rest of us is misplaced.
In a dynamic, growing economy, the rich get richer faster than the rest of us, thanks to the simple miracle of compound interest and/or successful investing. So if we want to narrow the gap, we just need a good, old-fashioned depression to take care of those richies!!
That’ll teach ’em … of course, we won’t have jobs, but that’s a small price to pay — isn’t it?
And last of all: Merry Christmas!
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.