Utopia or dystopia? What does the future hold for our city?
How can we, individually and collectively, shape this community? In endeavors such as Dream City, the 6035 project, and a dozen predecessors, we’ve asked ourselves the same question: how do cities thrive?
Forty-eight years ago, Jane Jacobs published “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”
In the book, she attacked the planners, bureaucrats, and urban brutalists whom, she believed, were ripping the heart out of American cities by imposing their own sterile modernist visions upon the complex, messy, unregulated chaos of the city. Her particular target: Robert Moses, who tore down whole neighborhoods in New York City to build freeways to serve suburban commuters.
Jacobs was too late to stop the tidal wave of urban renewal (AKA urban destruction) that swept across the country during the ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s.
More than almost any city in America, Colorado Springs suffered from the “new brutalism.”
Entire city blocks were leveled, including most of the city’s major historic structures. The architects of this disaster weren’t trying to rip the heart out Colorado Springs – they just wanted to build a shiny new city that would be convenient and modern, just like a suburban office park.
Deluded fools, every one – right? We’ve learned our lesson – right?
We know now that we need to get the stuff back that we so casually ripped down a few decades back – downtown residential structures, retail density, vibrant street life, thriving small businesses, art galleries, convenient public transportation.
Trouble is, we’ve been trying to revive downtown for nearly three decades, with mixed success. Tejon Street looks good, but most everything else is suffering.
I don’t think we can revive downtown with half-measures. We need to make some big changes – and that doesn’t mean spending tens of millions in taxpayer funds to give a junkily designed renovated building to the USOC.
Here are some suggestions.
Get rid of the parking lots. There are three enormous lots that are being held by owners sure that, sooner or later, the time will come to build a trophy high-rise. Here’s some news from the reality-based community: that time may never come.
Have the city/county act together to create a fat incentive package, deferring all manner of taxes, to encourage property owners to build low-rise commercial/residential structures on their vast sites. And here’s a stick to go with the carrot: remove flat parking as a principal permitted use.
Make downtown a special tax-exempt zone for both merchants and residents. Just suspend the collection of sales/property tax for five years, and offer property owners/ residents the same break. Do that, and watch the stores open, watch the lofts go up. And try to get the state to suspend the state income tax as well … we’d have a mini-Monaco!
Would it be fair, equitable, and logical policy? No – but it’d sure work.