Neither can I.
In the 1970s we agonized over being perceived as an economically stressed city utterly dependent on military spending. Then we worried about being a city where unfettered growth would despoil and defile our city’s pristine beauty. Then the boom went poof! … and we were the foreclosure capital of America. Things got better, thanks in part to an influx of Christian nonprofits — but then we were the Mecca of the Religious Right! A hotbed of anti-gay, anti-abortion social conservatives intent upon imposing their will upon all Americans! Those concerns faded as the economy went south, and we focused on our aging, stuffy, uncreative residents.
Geezers, get younger or get cooler! Here’s why.
1. Young professionals are essential to regional economic health.
2, The local job market for YP’s is somewhere between thin and non-existent.
3. YP’s, as a percentage of the population, are shrinking.
If present trends continue, we’ll no longer be the lively, intermittently prosperous open-air lunatic asylum that we all so enjoy, but a quietly mouldering old-age home for eccentric seniors.
We know what we have to do: remake our national image!
Our problem: we’re not cool. Denver is cool, Las Vegas is cool, Boulder is cool, Aspen is cool, Austin is cool, and San Francisco is cool. Sacramento isn’t, nor is Peoria, or Detroit, or Grand Junction, or Greeley.
We’re a great place to raise children. But once those kids are grown, they’re gone — especially if they’re smart and creative, and more especially if there are no jobs for them.
Yet that wouldn’t matter, if we were seen as less fearful and more playful. If you’re young and adventurous, you’re looking for a ramblin’, gamblin’, reckless and feckless place to live — a place, as the Dixie Chicks once sang, “with room to make big mistakes.” Not a dangerous place — a fun place.
We’re not that place. Today’s wide open spaces are in cities like San Francisco or Denver, in university towns like Boulder, and in transient, phantasmagoric communities like Burning Man.
We can’t just fake it with a new slogan, a better website, and more visits by silver-haired community leaders to the Austins of the world. What do we expect — a sprinkling of fairy dust from the now-irrelevant geezers who helped build cool cities? Our city might as well adopt Stephen Colbert’s tongue-in-cheek motto: Videri quam Esse (to seem rather than to be).
To be cool, you have to do cool things — and we’ve actually done a few of late. How many cities have, in the last few days, both preserved 640 acres of pristine open space for future generations (section 16) and been the locus of a viral internet hoax (Craigslist baby for sale)? That only happens in cool places — although, to be fair, the hoax only worked because of the naiveté of our police department.
Good start — and here are some suggestions.
Create a partnership between Colorado Springs Utilities, G.E. Johnson, RTA Architects and our most creative/adventurous/visibly crazed artists to design, build, transport and erect the ultimate Burning Man sculpture. I can see it now: a convoy of CSU trucks, cherry pickers, and specialty vehicles carrying art to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, where tens of thousands annually dance through the night.
Stop dithering and build the trail around Pikes Peak. The careful hikers who would use it would scarcely endanger the resident Bighorns — they’d just take too many banal photos.
Replicate downtown’s “Art on the Streets” project on a larger scale, with an annual “art on the Walls” competition. Celebrate the art of painting — and while we’re at it, why not similar competitions for playwrights, for filmmakers and composers?
Celebrate our eccentricity and creativity. Rather than sending delegations to learn from other cities, we ought to send delegations to teach other cities about Colorado Springs. Let’s send Lola Spitfire to teach ‘em burlesque, Douglas Rouse to do trompe l’oeil sidewalk art, Pete Schuermann to film ‘em, Tom McElroy to promote general weirdness, Sam Guadagnoli to teach ‘em how to party and Sean Paige to be Sean Paige. Now that’d be a delegation which any journalist would be proud to accompany.
Create an “Arts Venture Fund.” We can’t expect the Bee Vradenburg Foundation and El Pomar to bankroll the risky, off-the-wall ventures that would be community game changers.
And our new motto? Forget corporate confections like “Freedom to Achieve” or “World-Class City.”
I wonder if Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s memorable trope is in the public domain?
“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
Hazlehurst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-227-5861. Watch him at 7:20 a.m. every Tuesday and Friday on Channel 3, Fox Morning News.