Got an email on Monday from a reader who shall remain anonymous. Here’s the text:
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 email@example.com or 227-5861.