Making sense of our fragmented community

Got an email on Monday from a reader who shall remain anonymous. Here’s the text:

“John,

Perhaps with your exposure to matters of a civic nature you can explain the relationship between: DreamCity 2020 — Project 6035 — Leadership Pikes Peak — Center for Creative Leadership.

I have about 4 terabytes of space dedicated to their studies, reports, with what appears to be a lot of pseudo socio-economic psychobabble and no action plan. Are these all groups working in competition, they working together, is there any overall leadership and/or direction?”

I didn’t quite know how to answer.

I could have said that yes, Virginia, there is an action plan. Dozens, nay scores, nay hundreds, nay thousands of civic-spirited residents of the Pikes Peak region are working together to achieve many worthwhile ends. Soon enough, we’ll have leadership with a capital “L,” a plan with a capital “P,” and be able to create community with a capital “C.”

Our sullen, dispirited, Bruce-haunted little burg will transform itself into an urban oasis, “America’s City of Smiles.” Our downtown will revive, and gleaming skyscrapers will soar toward impossibly blue skies, framing streets thronged with cheerful pedestrians about to board our sparkling new light rail system. Mayor Oprah Winfrey, whose election will symbolize the city’s rebirth … well, never mind.

Dream City and Project 6035 are both based upon now-familiar models of community revitalization. You round up the usual suspects, folks who have labored effectively in the business, government, and nonprofit sectors, served on boards and/or held elected office and have worked for the betterment of the community.

You assume that by harnessing so much energy and competence, and directing it to a set of common goals, good things will happen. Energy and enthusiasm are contagious, so pretty soon you have broad community buy-in.

That’s the way the world works, isn’t it? In business, you’ll succeed if your staff is competent, hard-working and dedicated to the task at hand. Governments that focus upon providing services efficiently and economically flourish, as do nonprofits that dedicate themselves to their goals, follow through, and make the calls.

But there’s a caveat.

If your focused, competent business is making a product or service that no one wants, you’ll fail. As the daily newspaper business collapsed during the past three years, it didn’t much matter whether your company was fecklessly managed (Freedom Communications) or not (Gannett) ­— you were going down. And in the case of the city of Colorado Springs, one glaring mistake (the USOC deal) may have eclipsed years of competent service delivery.

The goal of creating a cooperative, mutually tolerant, progressive community that can coalesce around a few mutually beneficial goals may be a product with no buyers. The citizens who are trying to move the community forward are talking in an echo chamber, would-be leaders speechifying to other would-be leaders. No one is paying attention — and that might not be such a bad thing.

Consider our community. It isn’t a community, but a collection of scattered, incoherent developments and commercial strips that bear little relationship to the small city that begot them.

Residents of cities such as Boulder, Denver, Santa Fe, or Omaha, share not only the goals and aspirations common to most Americans, but also a common sense of place. Shared goals enable and shape community discussions, and make it possible to realize “community” goals.

Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland that “there’s no there there.” That’s not true of Colorado Springs — there are lots of theres here, and they don’t have much to do with each other. Few of us were born here — instead, we came for the climate, the space and often to join particular microcommunities.

Military retirees are one such community, as are conservative, family oriented suburbanites, as are North End/West Side/Manitou liberals.

If you live in the northern suburbs, there’s no reason to go downtown, and vice versa. And if downtown’s many attractions appeal to you, you probably chose to live near downtown in the first place.

I can’t imagine a life that revolves around a mega-church, malls, and a military/high tech job. I have friends who lead such lives, and my kids were raised in such an environment when we first moved back to Colorado Springs in the early 1980s. But now I live in the agreeably unbuttoned, laissez-faire environment of Old Colorado City, which wouldn’t suit my suburban friends for a moment.

And that’s fine. We don’t have to agree, or support each other’s lifestyle, or join together to achieve common goals. That may be why anti-communitarian initiatives, such as TABOR and November’s Issue 300, were supported by West Siders and suburbanites alike. We don’t want to pay for your stuff (drainage, capital improvements, eight-lane arterials) and you don’t want to pay for our stuff (museums, Rock Ledge Ranch, community centers).

It’s not animosity, but mutual indifference. So rather than gathering around the campfire and singing Kumbaya, we’ll figure out how to pay for our stuff, and you figure out how to pay for yours.

John Hazlehurst can be reached at john.hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.

7 Responses to Making sense of our fragmented community

  1. Man, if we just had a community rugby stadium, I’m sure that everything would be just groovy!

    Dick Burns
    January 8, 2010 at 2:22 pm

  2. The KEY: what is our responsibility to direct these fragmented groups into a powerhouse of focused energy toward economic stability? The option, doing nothing, allows for the Cheech and Chong city and county continue onward deeper into nothingness. We need to do something.

    Rick Wehner
    January 8, 2010 at 2:24 pm

  3. John,

    You get to the heart of the frustrations and fractures in this community, and you revive a lot of the old conversations.

    Dream City: Vision 2020 was started to get to the new conversations. Contrary to what you state, it wasn’t about gathering the usual suspects. In fact, we got more than 3,000 people from many walks of life to participate in discussion groups, many more who joined online discussions, and countless more who’ve been involved in related library activities and who’ve read The Gazette stories.

    Wondering where it goes from here? Peter Block, author of “Community: The Structure of Belonging,” will give a series of talks today at CC’s Cornerstone Arts Center about the power of this kind of grassroots community discussion, and how it moves to action. (Unfortunately, the one that’s open to everybody already started at 11 a.m..)

    Every Sunday in The Gazette (that daily paper you had so much trouble subscribing to — sheesh, that’s embarrassing) for the next nine weeks, we’re running a series about Dream City’s action plan. It’s not about we Dream City people (the library, newspaper and others involved in getting people involved) will do to make this happen.

    The stories will look at a given topic, say education, and look at what the vision statements were that emerged from the brainstorming sessions. Then it will look at what people or groups in the community are doing toward those goals, and what they need in terms of money or community support to get there.

    I get that there’s a lot of distrust of big initiatives for change, as much as there is distrust in our leadership. But cultural shifts take time, and what we need to understand that engagement has rewards that both subtle and profound.

    If you’re interested in learning more about the Dream City process, Everyday Democracy, a Dream City partner, will offer free orientations about the Dialogue-to-Action process:
    • 5-7 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Gay & Lesbian Fund of Colorado, 315 E. Costilla St.; general orientation; RSVP to carolrw@aol.com.
    • 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Jan. 27 at the Penrose Library, 20 N. Cascade Ave.; focus on Dream City: Vision 2020: Translating Dialogue to Action; RSVP to becci@leadershippikespeak.org.
    • 5-7 p.m. Jan. 27 at Mitchell High School, 1205 Potter Drive, focus on Education: Increasing Parent Involvement, RSVP to carolrw@aol.com.
    Info: Carol Scott at 213-7375 or carolrw@aol.com

    also, you can go to dreamcity2020.org.

    Warren Epstein
    January 11, 2010 at 11:42 am

  4. Perhaps before we stick flowers in our hair, hold hands and go skipping up the hill singing Kumbaya, we need to make sure we are going to be able to continue payments on — the hill. Currently, the stories coming out of the city and the county and the civic groups are not resonating with the voters who need to kick in the funds. If the story is not resonating, perhaps we need new story-tellers.

    A group of non-aligned business people, heavily weighted toward accountants and engineers, who can perform a realistic financial evaluation of where this region actually stands, and what is the true cost of local government.

    The city’s ungracious and shortsighted absolute refusal to even consider the proposals put forth by Mr. Steve Bartolin for an independent audit of the city is the very first indication – we need to look deeper!

    Is it possible, between the city and the county, we really are paying way too much to way too many too provide way too little in the way of economic stability?

    Rick Wehner
    January 12, 2010 at 8:07 am

  5. Warren, Rick-you both make good points. And it’s interesting that you both would like to move away from what Warren calls “old conversations” toward a new model of community.

    Our greatest problem is not so much our many differences but, as Rick has repeatedly pointed out, the absolute delegitimization of many of the community’s visible leaders. Blame it on the USOC, or the Stormwater Enterprise, or failed property tax initiatives, or Douglas Bruce-the fact is that we’re where we were during 1989 or 1990-a recession, an exhausted leadership class, and an angry, cynical electorate. That’s going to continue for another year or so-but come next April, the voters will have the opportunity to reshape City Council. A new mayor and a new council majority will have the opportunity to move away from the cynicism, cronyism, secrecy, and apparent ineptitude of the Rivera years and re-establish the trust in Government that both Bob Isaac & Mary Lou Makepeace were, in very different ways, able to inspire.

    We tend to underestimate the power of a trustworthy, competent, and sensible mayor-unril we no longer have one. Look at how Denver’s success during the past quarter-century, and you can see how three powerful, politically adroit, and enormously capable mayors were able to transform that city from a midwestern backwater into the “great city” that Federico pena first asked Denverites to imagine. We made fun of “Feddy & the Dreamers”-but they did the job.

    The energy harnessed and manifested by our own Dream City may well create our own new city-but just as a plane is only a hunk of metal without a pilot and full fuel tanks, our dreamliner may remain earthbound.

    John Hazlehurst
    January 12, 2010 at 2:15 pm

  6. Part of the city should be slit away. The Downtown, Old North end, Patty Jewett and , Westside areas leave Colorado Springs and is annexed by Manitou.

    wolfy1
    January 15, 2010 at 7:55 am

  7. I agree with you and find the current situation very sad. I think it’s going to take a long time to heal this community’s psyche related to the USOC deal. I understand why the Council really wanted to keep it, but the price was too high — both financially and in community spirit. We would have survived just fine without the USOC. You should never cowtail to an organization ready to run to the highest bidder.

    Sad
    January 29, 2010 at 2:22 pm