Cutting, even mutilation, won’t alleviate city’s pain

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“Do you cut yourself with knives, razor blades, broken glass, needles, nails, paper clips, pins, scissors, tacks, anything you can get your hands on? Do you bang your head against walls? Punch walls till your hand goes all bruised and bloody? Do you throw yourself through panes of glass? Expose your body to extreme weather conditions without wearing protective clothing so you’ll get frostbite or sunburn or chills and fevers? Stare directly into the sun until it nearly blinds you? You’re not alone”- ‘Razor’

‘Razor’ is the pseudonym of a woman who cut herself for more than 13 years, and now writes a powerfully healing blog.

Such behavior, most often seen in women between 13 and 30, is clinically described as ‘deliberate self-harm’ (DSH) and is defined as “the intentional, direct injuring of body tissue without suicidal intent.” A 1993 study divided self-mutilation into two categories: culturally sanctioned self-mutilation and deviant self-mutilation.

Can DSH affect not just individuals, but entire communities? Medical literature appears to contain no instances of such mass psychoses, although communal hysteria, such as that during the Salem witch trials, or that surrounding 1980s allegations of satanic ritual child abuse at a California pre-school is not uncommon.

But it may be that a voting majority of the residents of Colorado Springs are so afflicted. How else to explain our behavior during recent years, as we deliberately wound, mutilate, and diminish our city? And if so, it wouldn’t be the first time.

For those of us with long memories, it’s easy to remember a time when residents prized neither parks, nor open space, nor historic buildings, nor the arts.

After the catastrophic flood of 1935, Monument Valley Park devolved into an overgrown, weed-choked mess. Restoration was slow and sporadic. Even today, the northern end of the park is overgrown and unmaintained, especially when compared to photographs taken more than 80 years ago.

Until the last quarter of the 20th century, local governments paid little attention to neighborhood concerns, to the ravages of unregulated growth, and even to providing appropriate infrastructure financing.

Support the arts? Forget it! Preserve important historic structures? Bring on the wrecking ball! Fund infrastructure? Don’t worry about it!

Starting in the early 70’s, the city moved away from its laissez-faire philosophy. Driven to action by neighborhood advocates, by the business community, and by concerned residents, Colorado Springs became a modern community.

Public/private partnerships built the Pikes Peak Center for the Performing Arts, the World Arena, and the Garden of the Gods visitor center. The 1902 County Courthouse escaped the wrecking ball, and was transformed into a spectacular museum that celebrates our region’s history. City voters agreed to fund the acquisition of thousands of acres of open space, and to transform part of the downtown’s derelict southwest quadrant into America the Beautiful Park. For decades, the city sponsored and funded classical concerts in the parks by the Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra, culminating in a spectacular free concert and fireworks display in Memorial Park every 4th of July.

The city even sponsored exhibitions of serious contemporary art. The catalogue for “Colorado ‘83,” an exhibition of Colorado artists mounted by the Fine Arts Center during the fall of 1983, contains a paragraph that, in today’s sour climate, seems scarcely credible.

Charles Guerin, then the FAC’s curator of fine arts, wrote that “Colorado ‘83 is the result of a complex collaborative effort between the artists, the juror, the curatorial staff of the museum, and the City of Colorado Springs, which generously funded the project.”

The communitarian torch that once illuminated and transformed our city may have burned fitfully at times, but it now seems all but extinguished. Ours is, to misquote Yeats, no place for young men (or women).

In the news: Colorado Springs shrinks its bus system, reduces funding for public safety and street maintenance, defunds parks, community centers, and the Pioneers Museum.

Denver: after four years of planning, and voter approval of a multi-billion dollar light rail network, announces a $400 million federal grant for redevelopment of Union Station as a transit hub, where buses, commuter rail, and light rail will converge.

Folks, don’t you realize that we’re harming ourselves and our future, just as surely as do the young women whom ‘Razor’ counsels? The very things that our community is now abandoning are prized by young professionals, the ‘creative class’ that every city struggles to attract. This is, to misquote Yeats, no place for young men (or women).

Parks, museums, a vibrant arts scene, a lively downtown, light rail, streetcars, restored historic buildings and livable close-in neighborhoods define successful cities. We could have all of those things — but we’d rather cut, and cut, and cut … just leave us alone, OK? We’re fine. And the city will be fine — with a few more cuts. John Hazlehurst can be reached at john.hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.

One Response to Cutting, even mutilation, won’t alleviate city’s pain

  1. It seems to me John, that one way or another you are in favor of tax increases for things that you feel are important. Whereas, it is certainly advantageous to have all the amenities you suggest, government’s business is to insure basic infrastructure for all citizens. ALL citizens need the fire and police services. SOME citizens want to use the amenities but they do not need them. When the city goes broke or raises taxes exhorbitantly, how many of those young “creative class” will be attracted? It sounds to me that rather than “cut, cut, and cut”, you would rather spend, spend, and spend!

    Ken Battershill
    February 12, 2010 at 5:51 pm