Let’s just follow Denver

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As I arrived in Israel this week, I was thinking about a tale of two cities, but not Dickens’. Though I was born in Haifa, Israel, I’m staying in Tel Aviv, about one hour south. These two cities parallel Colorado Springs and Denver, respectively, one hour by car but light-years apart.

Haifa and CS have about the same population and their own reputations: Haifa has traditionally been the labor stronghold, proud home of the Technion (Israel’s MIT), and the world center of the Baha’i (with gardens meandering down the hill to the Mediterranean Sea), while CS is a conservative stronghold with Focus on the Family, Air Force Academy and the Olympic presence.

Tel Aviv and Denver have far more people and their own reputations: TA is the party mecca of Israel, competing with Paris and London for all-night clubs, high fashion, high-tech, banking, and cosmopolitan sophistication, while Denver has successfully climbed the national ladder with a convention center, communication industries, professional athletic teams, and overall commercial appeal.

Haifa has always been the ugly sister of TA, just as CS remains the secondary city in Colorado. Haifa stayed the course of isolation and self-loathing, internal community squabbles, and lack of leadership or vision. After decades of false starts, it lags behind its ascending counterpart.

CS has likewise not kept up with Denver, choosing to maintain a parochial approach to its self-image. A friend who bought a house in CS and one in Denver about 15 years ago for the same price reports that while his CS house has doubled in value, his Denver place has appreciated ten-fold. Anecdotes, when factual, capture much.

Denver had a visionary mayor who is now our governor, John Hickenlooper. Yes, he is a Democrat by party affiliation, but if you were to judge him on either coast, he’d be considered a Republican centrist. He is so pro-business that he’s letting fracking go on with limited regulation until it’s proven more is needed.

But even this pro-business politician was keen on raising taxes in Denver to ensure a strong infrastructure (with voter approval). This, incidentally, didn’t deter corporate America from flocking into town, but rather was a necessary ingredient in their moves

Why? Corporate tax burden is only one of many variables that figure into choosing a location. Good roads and bridges, public transportation, public safety, schools and universities, hospitals and concert halls, restaurants and bars, athletic facilities and parks also are important.

If a broad tax base ensures all of the above and is used judiciously to provide a wide range of options for people, the sting of taxes is not only acceptable but even welcome. Cities have to offer the foundation, and private enterprise will follow. It doesn’t work the other way around.

Until the Waldo Canyon fire, CS played the “let the marketplace do its thing” game: Private enterprise will fill the gaps left by inadequate public funding, from the symphony and FAC to USOC and Uncle Wilber. Isn’t Pikes Peak enough?

Despite its quirky reputation for religious headquarters and mega-churches (all of whom enjoy special tax status), CS still owns a hospital and utilities. MHS is being leased, but CSU is still proudly managed by incompetent, small-town executives who in are way over their heads.

Follow Denver! That’s all we need to do if we plan to be like our big sister to the north rather than Pueblo (which has a nicer downtown riverwalk and historic buildings). Denver got it right: It has a great infrastructure with multiple museums and a core downtown that draws tourists and conventioneers.

Recall The Broadmoor derailing a downtown convention center for decades, as if two are not better than one. An old professor of mine taught me years ago: There is plenty of room at the top; it’s not a pyramid. Recall decades of studies that yielded no results because downtown development would necessitate floating bonds. No financial infusion of city funds, no local development — the equation is easy to figure out. But as real entrepreneurs know, there must be more than one equation worth checking out.

As Councilman Tim Leigh is willing to challenge CSU’s operations, small-town minds keep silencing him, worrying that back-room contracts might see the light of day. No matter how hard utilities circles its wagons, let’s follow Denver and keep a water department while selling all else. If we don’t, we’ll turn into another Haifa where the sidewalks are rolled up early to ensure a good night’s sleep.

Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS. He can be reached at rsassower@gmail.com See previous articles at sassower.blogspot.com

One Response to Let’s just follow Denver

  1. Re: Raphael Sassower’s piece this week “Let’s Just Follow Denver”….really? Having never been to Haifa or Tel Aviv, I’m not qualified to weigh in on how those cities compare. But Colorado Springs’ long-standing reputation as Denver’s ugly little sister is pure myth. 20 years ago, I left a great job and willingly took a 30% paycut to leave Denver and move my family to Colorado Springs. My educated, elite friends, most of whom work in the news media, were astonished by my choice. Still are. But why argue? If they found out how good I have it, they’d just move here and spoil everything. In the 20 years since I arrived in the Springs, the population has grown 3 fold, and the community has morphed from a medium town into a major metropolitan community. Yet it remains an affordable, liveable place where mid-income folks can rent or own housing in the heart of historic Colorado Springs, the midst of Cheyenne Canyon, or within walking distance of any number of excellent public schools. I never imagined that in Colorado Springs, I would be able to start a small business and purchase a century-old building with my partners in one of the city’s most desirable downtown retail blocks. And this growing community still invites plain folks, like small business owners and philosophy professors, to actively engage in discourse about the direction our city is taking. As for the anti-tax climate of Colorado Springs, I think there are countless fiscal conservatives, such as myself, who would very willingly support higher taxes for infrastructure if we had the confidence that our local leadership would spend our dollars wisely.

    Sylvia Jennings
    July 30, 2012 at 11:39 am