City must work to ignore those donkeys of delusion

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All cities face challenges at some point in their history. Fire destroyed much of San Francisco, Katrina drowned New Orleans and a 1900 hurricane leveled Galveston. War ravaged Beirut, Dresden and St Petersburg. The Black Plague decimated London, and more than a thousand famines have swept through Chinese cities.

We dread the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the terrible steeds who bring war, famine, flood and death.

But perhaps we fear the wrong things. Cities fail because they lose their reason for existence.

Residents of such cities embrace the four donkeys of delusion. They tell us that everything’s fine, that the future will take care of itself, that God protects us, and that prosperity is the natural order of things. So believed the residents of Mesa Verde and Chichen Itza, of Nineveh and Tyre, and of Uravan and Tarryall.

We’ve had it pretty good in the Pikes Peak region for the past 60 years. We’ve been a military town in a defense-driven era and a Western city in a time of westward migration. We’ve grown and prospered. It’s been a long, strange, and interesting trip — and it’s about to end.

Military spending saved us from the worst effects of the Great Recession, yet recovery remains feeble and uncertain. In the end, little has changed in more than a half-century. Like it or not, our city’s future is tied to the military, which accounts for close to a third of the local economy.

That’s unacceptable. Even if we avoid sequestration in March, defense spending will shrink radically in the next decade.

What should we do?

We’re already in the Hunger Games, competing against dozens of other cities in trying to dodge the cuts that are sure to come. Do we have a Katniss Everdeen to defend us? I’m not sure that Doug Lamborn measures up.

Remember when Detroit began its long decline? Auto execs blamed Americans for refusing to buy Detroit’s junky cars, autoworkers blamed incompetent managers, management blamed greedy and rule-bound union workers, and politicians dithered.

Local decision-makers didn’t know how to react, as the manufacturing economy that had created and supported Midwestern cities for generations began to falter. The new world before them seemed strange, hostile and implacable — so they didn’t do much of anything.

What about us? Are we prepared for the worst? It seems inconceivable that our city could ever go the way of Detroit and Cleveland, of Flint and Buffalo … but here’s a scenario:

It’s 2025. Fort Carson has been closed for three years. Schriever is history. The Air Force Academy has dropped down to Division III, with just over a thousand cadets on campus. Military contractors have disappeared from the region.

The oil and gas boom that so many anticipated in 2013 never materialized. Ultra Petroleum cut its losses and sold Banning-Lewis to Phil Anschutz for $7 million. It’s still a cattle ranch — and Anschutz’s heirs, having sold The Broadmoor and closed The Gazette, intend to package the ranch with the rest of Anschutz’s vast land holdings and sell it all.

Our vaunted downtown renaissance never happened, as conservative banks, fearful investors, and a souring economy thwarted the ambitions of a few visionary developers. Southeastern Colorado Springs, hit hard by the closure of the Mountain Post, is our very own South Bronx, a grim landscape of boarded-up apartment buildings, closed businesses and abandoned homes. The City Administration Building has been vacant for years, abandoned after Mayor Steve Bach persuaded the U.S. Olympic Committee to share space with a much-diminished city work force. Utility bills have soared as bills come due for the now-abandoned Southern Delivery System.

With no new jobs, the local economy is sustained by tight-fisted retirees living on fixed incomes. Sales tax receipts have declined every year since 2017. Resentful old-timers, stuck in unsalable homes, fondly remember the boom years of the 1990s.

Unlikely? Yes. Unthinkable. No.

How do we avoid it? We create our own future, just as Denver, Omaha, Indianapolis and Columbus did. We invest in our city. We tear down Martin Drake Power Plant and build a baseball stadium, we revive our moribund park system, we fill downtown with new buildings, we convert the city admin building to live/work entrepreneurial space, and we welcome every crazed entrepreneur, artist, dreamer and scoundrel to Colorado Springs, the new California.

We throw open the windows of our tired old city and let the air in … and people will come and marvel, and even quote Shakespeare:

“O brave new world / That has such people in’t.”

Of course, when the awed Miranda spoke those lines in the Tempest, she was looking at a crowd of drunken sailors … but that’d be a good start.

4 Responses to City must work to ignore those donkeys of delusion

  1. I don’t think it’s unlikely. When I compare Colorado Springs to other towns, like Fort Collins or Austin, Colorado Springs is already in serious decline. Your new business moves to Denver. Your office complexes are package and sold off in huge chunks.

    When you listen to the plans for the future of the town, it’s clear the leaders don’t know how the world works. Most of the world doesn’t pray about what to do– they are too busy doing whatever it is. Even religious Chic-Fil-a lives in a city that doesn’t watch thing happen, it makes them so.

    Colorado Springs looks to me like a rust belt city with a great backdrop. All the empty retail space, the 30 year old vacant shopping centers… the cars people drive with paint falling off of the hoods.. The thrift stores everywhere.

    However it’s soon to not be my problem, so I’ll refrain from any more advise.

    Not Sure That We'll Stay
    February 7, 2013 at 11:48 am

  2. Sometimes one needs to look at a worst case scenario to wake up from denial. Folks up in Denver at the state level are ‘scenario planning’ and so should our local leadership. There are some important centers of gravity in the Pikes Peak Region that are planning for the future. The region needs to rally behind them rather then standing on the sidelines waiting for positive and proactive initiatives to join the dust heap ‘could have beens.’

    Andrew Hershberger
    February 7, 2013 at 10:32 pm

  3. Oh John how could you forget!? We can ALWAYS eat scenery! Any sense of forward thinking in Colorado Springs is oxymoronic. SDS will prove to be one of the biggest boondoggles in Colorado history … building infrastructure for a community no major business would want to relocate to because of the oppressively negative conservative political climate. Take a look for a moment at the progress Pueblo has made in recent years … didn’t see any multi-million dollar grants coming Colorado Springs way as happened with The Riverwalk. Oh well, we can always eat scenery!

    RJF
    February 8, 2013 at 9:16 am

  4. It is foolish thinking to only focus on a baseball stadium as the savior of our downtown blight. A baseball diamond is a rather limited structure…. Some of our bright eyed “leaders ” should instead focus on a more multi-purpose facility such as INFINITY PARK in Glendale. It’s world class and built but a much smaller municipality offering , rugby , soccer, concerts, exercise fields and other public gathering space.

    Get Imaginative Colorado Springs, then we can LIVE IT UP !

    Eddie
    February 10, 2013 at 3:08 pm