Cities are built by visionaries or they are born of economic necessity, the need for trade routes or sea ports. Our city has a history of great men, from General Palmer to Stratton and Penrose, who have labored to make our town a better place to live for future generations.
We don’t need a gold rush to drive our vision. Only dedication and goodwill.
At a time when Mayor Steve Bach has his hands full cleaning up city administration after decades of neglect that borders on fiduciary delinquency, and City Council is struggling to define its job description under the new city charter, dare to dream with me about ways to improve our city.
First, as part of the city structural cleanup, we should divest ourselves of any and all entities that are not essential. Sell or lease Memorial Health System, Springs Utilities and the airport. The urgency behind this is twofold: ridding ourselves of entities we cannot efficiently manage and providing funds to pay for all yet-to-be-mentioned ideas below. Lease or sale revenues should be tucked away in an account earmarked for long-term projects and initiatives. This would alleviate us from the need for tax increases down the road.
Second, we should build on the presence of the U.S. Olympic Committee and focus on athletics. We cannot expect professional teams to move here, so instead we should make ourselves the home of Paralympic and special-needs tournaments. Maybe the home of wounded warrior events, too.
A downtown sports complex, perhaps in place of the Martin Drake Power Plant, would revitalize the city and draw tourists from across America. Every major city (think Denver) has realized this.
Third, if indeed University of Colorado Health System takes over Memorial and opens a medical school at UCCS, we should ask for it to become dedicated to sports medicine — training, nutrition, treatment. The synergy between USOC, UCCS and MHS could become a national model. This is not about money but about an execution of ideas in the most efficient way, using the talent we have and responding to community needs.
Fourth, given the large population of military veterans we have, we should integrate them into the previous two ideas, whatever the conditions under which they are discharged. The military has resources that could be part of new city plans. Whether as participants or fans, veterans should be made to feel part of the city. They cannot be heroes abroad and pariahs at home.
Fifth, get the business community more involved in K-12 education. Our very own Steve Schuck spearheaded the school-voucher initiative that brought charter schools to Colorado.
The Chamber of Commerce and EDC can help by working to ensure that graduation rates are no longer an embarrassment. School reform should be local, rather than the disastrous federal mandate of No Child Left Behind, but to be meaningful, this requires local pressure in order to change entrenched attitudes.
Sixth, in UCCS we have the bright light of an ever-expanding university, an innovative engine of economic development. Look to Silicon Valley in California to see that academic hubs are the foundations of business prosperity. Forget Silicon Valley. How about Digital Rockies?
Seventh, as we focus on our indigenous talents and brain-power, we should also take advantage of the natural beauty that surrounds us. Perhaps the leadership of local tourism should be placed in the hands of 30-somethings who can generate the kind of excitement the future of our town can enjoy.
Eighth, since attracting tourists and newcomers is still our vision of growth, let’s stop urban or suburban sprawl and focus on the center of town. If you visit any great city in America, you begin with downtown, and not some faraway development. Urban “filling” would also reduce the pressure on our inadequate infrastructure — from sewage lines to fire and police stations.
Ninth, to combat the impression that we are religious extremists, let’s emphasize religious diversity and harmony, agreeing on some common religious principles. UCCS’s Center for Religious Diversity and Public Life is only a starting point; the city should foster such initiatives to breed tolerance.
Tenth, if we agree to adopt any of the above initiatives and change our mindset as an emerging mid-size city rather than a small town below Pikes Peak, we need to promote civility among all stakeholders, from the mayor and City Council all the way to department heads and city employees.
As for the rest of us? We need to learn to exchange ideas passionately but respectfully.
If we follow through with only half of these ideas during the next year or two, we would realize some amazing changes.
If we follow through with all of them, we would become a highly respected model city, rather than a bastion of religious fanaticism and narrow-minded values. We deserve to be more than a national laughing stock.
But we must earn it first.
Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org See previous articles at sassower.blogspot.com