Colorado Springs’ potholes and Denver’s success

Filed under: Hazlehurst |

It’s usually an easy, pleasant drive to work from my house on the west side. Right on Bijou, down 21st to Colorado, thence to Cascade, turn north and I’m there — wait a minute!

Not anymore. There are now small potholes, there are big potholes, and then there are the two potholes that almost entirely block the eastbound left turn lane at Colorado and Cascade.

These are suspension-braking, teeth-rattling, tire-blowing monsters, deep enough to do some serious damage to any car short of a Hummer.  Definitely not the place for a little roadster that spends the winter hibernating in the garage.

After steering past the Scylla and Charybdis of potholes, I tried a different route.

No luck. The potholes on the alternate route were just as bad, and just as difficult to avoid.

Whether because of a long, cold winter with multiple freeze-thaw cycles, or because of a straitened city budget, potholes appear to be exceptionally abundant this winter.  Downtown seems gray and shabby, plagued by broken curbs, vacant buildings, and dispirited, shabby men and women trudging toward Marian House for a meal.

During the last quarter of a century, downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods have changed comparatively little.  In downtown’s core, perhaps half a dozen new structures have been erected since 1980.  The west side has more than held its own, thanks to the revival of Old Colorado City, while the North End once again rivals the Broadmoor as the city’s most desirable neighborhood.  Colorado College has thrived, as has Patty Jewett, Shooks Run, and the near North End.

We’d be looking just fine — if not for the blasted landscape of southwest downtown, where the well-intentioned schemes and dreams of the last 20 twenty years have come to naught.

25 years ago

Southwest downtown 25 years ago was a thriving commercial/industrial district.  Crissey/Fowler was the city’s dominant building supply house, ringed by commercial plumbing and electric contractors, manufacturers such as Metso Metals, and quirky businesses such as Ross Auction.

Crissey’s multi-building complex has been vacant for more than a decade.  Where the Metso buildings once stood, tumbleweeds drift across a vast vacant lot.  Save for Ross and a few other holdouts, much of the southwest quadrant is deserted.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way.  Plans that now appear hopelessly grandiose called for hotels, townhouses, lofts and a thriving arts district, anchored by America the Beautiful Park.

The arts district is still there, just north of the Colorado Avenue Bridge.  A few of the buildings along Sawatch are seeing new occupants, and even some renovation.

Drive 70 miles north to Denver, and it’s a different story.  In the same quarter of a century, every aging neighborhood, every underused warehouse district, and every tract of once-useless ground close to downtown has seen explosive growth and redevelopment.  Lodo, the Central Platte Valley, Stapleton, and the formerly derelict and dangerous neighborhoods of northwest Denver have become prosperous, diverse communities.

Why them, and not us?  Part of Denver’s success comes from intelligently conceived municipal policies, which encouraged historic preservation, public/private partnerships, and coherent, attractive development.  Part comes from the “Black Hole” effect, as Denver’s success pulls in smart, ambitious kids, entrepreneurs, developers, and capital to fund them.  And much is due to factors that we can’t easily replicate: The Denver Art Museum, the Capitol, The Broncos/Rockies/Nuggets/Avalanche, and the Museum of Nature and Science.

But perhaps the fitful, often stalled redevelopment of much of our city’s core has less to do with badly conceived plans or a sputtering economy than with basic structural imbalances.

Thanks to the 1974 Poundstone amendment to the state constitution, Denver, alone among Colorado municipalities, was effectively barred from growing through annexation.  Rather than stifling Denver’s growth, the amendment forced growth to occur within the city’s historic boundaries. Suburban communities such as Highlands Ranch and Aurora grew rapidly, but Denver incurred neither costs nor benefits from such growth. Denver businessmen and politicians slowly adapted to the new reality: redevelop or die.

In Colorado Springs, the demands of suburban growth drove city budgets and policies.  To this day, city leaders believe that annexation = growth = tax revenue.  Never forced to focus on redeveloping the city’s core, they never made more than half-hearted efforts to do so.  Instead, the city took the easy way out, extending municipal services to vast tracts of antelope pasture, watching the houses spring up, collecting sales tax revenue, and incurring few immediate costs.

And now, it’s time to pay the piper.  Suburban infrastructure is expensive to maintain and replace, especially without the tax revenue that comes from growth.  Suburbanites don’t care about the city’s deteriorating center, and won’t tax themselves to maintain it, much less revive it.  Hello potholes, goodbye parks and urban revival.

But that’s OK; I don’t care.  There’s a guy in Denver who can sell me a lightly used Hummer for cheap.  He’d be glad to take the roadster in trade, says it’s a perfect Denver car.

John Hazlehurst can be reached at or 227-5861.

2 Responses to Colorado Springs’ potholes and Denver’s success

  1. Pingback: Erwin among 10 towns selected for downtown help | Salvage Cars For Sale

  2. Oh, John, your cars suspension is all broke and junk… Let me call you wrecker on my cellular. Oh wait, I can’t you see because I’m a pothole?

    Outside of Mayor Bob whom would you consider to be or have been a good leader for Colorado Springs expansion over the past 30 years? I can’t think of anyone I’m afraid, but then I’m just a pothole.

    Maybe we can fill those potholes with the dead grass and trash from our parks.

    By the way, it is “suspension-breaking”, not “suspension-braking” but then what do know I’m just the one that does it.

    March 16, 2010 at 11:17 am