What happened to Paige, Amanda, Terje, Dave, Joshua and John (last names omitted to protect the guilty)?
They were cool young folk, all clearly destined for success. Had they stayed in Colorado Springs, they’d be leading businesses and nonprofits, making amazing art, or performing before delighted audiences. But in common with many of their peers, they hit the road in search of larger, more exciting, more fulfilling lives.
And where did they go? To Denver, New York, Seattle, Tokyo, Boulder and Bend, Ore.
Quirky towns like Bend and Boulder, great metropolises such as New York and Tokyo and dynamic cities such as Denver and Boston create their own gravity, attracting disproportionate numbers of the so-called “creative class,” draining energy and innovation from third-tier cities like Colorado Springs.
Think of them not as competitors, but as predators.
In astrophysics, black holes are like giant crocodiles, ferocious beasts that will drag you under if you get too close.
Black hole cities don’t have boundaries — they have event horizons, defined in general relativity as a boundary in space-time when the gravitational pull becomes so great that escape is impossible.
City event horizons aren’t determined by geography, but by the dreams and aspirations of young migrants and the creative ferment of those who precede them. New York may draw you into its orbit whether you live in Tonopah or Timbuktu, while Mork from Ork chose Boulder a generation ago.
Just as it takes a very long time for massive stars to collapse into a black hole, cities can’t change radically overnight.
For Colorado Springs to change from prey to predator will require careful study, long-term planning and a major attitude adjustment. It’ll require a degree of humility and a willingness to learn from those whom we have long scorned.
Here are some suggestions:
• Let the suburbs be suburbs. All cities have them — leafy, pleasant garagescapes filled with folks who don’t much care about the city core. Denver has Aurora; Boulder has Longmont. Suburbs take care of themselves, unless pusillanimous city leaders allow suburban developers to leverage future property tax revenues to finance their projects. We’ve done that for decades, and it has contributed to our present tax malaise.
• Don’t confuse economic development with city building. Predator cities don’t have parking lots at their center, especially not ones that have been vacant for a half-century. Bringing companies and jobs to the airport’s Commercial Aeronautical Zone is great — for the suburbs. Revitalizing South Academy Boulevard and South/North Nevada Avenue is fine as well, but it makes little sense to improve the periphery and ignore the core.
• De-geezify local government. Put the mayor and City Council into a room, and what does it look like? I can tell you from experience: like the 50th reunion of my college class. Enough said.
• Get rid of the downtown, coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant. No matter how many cosmetic improvements we make, Drake will always be the turd in downtown’s punchbowl. And if the City Council is worried about the impact of electric rate increases upon Atmel, the lone survivor of our once-dominant chip industry, that’s commendable. Let them create a special fab rate for the chipmaker, but don’t sacrifice the city’s future on the altar of our digital past.
• Stop our feeble attempts to imitate our “peer” cities. If we catch up to Omaha or Albuquerque, so what? They’re not top-tier cities. We should return to our roots and become what we once were — a place everyone wanted to be and no one wanted to leave.
• Pay attention to high-level metrics, not meaningless click-bait like “Best Cities for Retirees.” For example, 701 U.S. natives have been awarded MacArthur Foundation “genius grants” since 1981. Of them, 188 lived in New York at the time of the award, 172 in California, 107 in Massachusetts and 13 in Colorado. Of the 13, one lived in Ridgway, one in Snowmass and 11 in Boulder. Eight recipients were born in Colorado, but none resided in the state at the time of the award. Of the 701 MacArthur honorees, 79 percent lived outside the state where they were born.
Conclusion: Smart people can live wherever they choose.
According to a study by law firm Fenwick and West, there are 37 “unicorns” in Silicon Valley, meaning venture-funded startup companies valued at $1 billion or more.
That’s not us, but it’s time for us to figure out our own way to San Jose.