What would Colorado Springs do without plans? I have no idea.
Ours is a city of plans. Gen. William Palmer’s men drove the town’s first stake in 1871 at what is now the southeast corner of Pikes Peak and Cascade avenues, and proceeded from that zero point to lay out streets, designate parkland, and create salable real estate parcels. All according to plan.
Palmer’s plan is still in place, as are his street names. North/south streets are named after mountain ranges — Cascade, Nevada, Tejon, Wahsatch, Sierra Madre — while east/west streets bear the names of Western rivers — Huerfano (now Colorado), St. Vrain, Bijou, Kiowa, Cache La Poudre.
Palmer’s street grid, laid out in a logical sequence of rectangular blocks bisected by north/south alleys, created a friendly environment for residential and commercial development. A typical block was 600 feet by 400 feet, and included 24 50-by-190-foot lots. A developer could buy one lot or more, depending on needs.
But restrictive covenants burdened property owners, who were forbidden to sell, distill, brew or serve alcohol on any property within the boundaries of Colorado Springs.
In the early 20th century, Palmer’s plan was updated and modernized in response to a “city beautiful” initiative. Landscaped medians and parkways were created to transform dusty streets into gracious boulevards — and everything went according to plan.
Decades later, the city acquired the reversionary rights embodied in the liquor covenants and extinguished them. They were replaced with the carefully planned ordinances, codes and enforcement protocols that already governed a city that had outgrown its founder’s vision.
When growth and development exploded in the late 1950s, it became obvious to city leaders that the city needed some kind of planning document to direct, control, harmonize, promote, encourage, restrain or stop growth — pick your verb.
The city’s first comprehensive plan was adopted in 1962 after much community discussion, although without today’s ritualized public input.
Since then, plans have increased in number, frequency and subject. If Gordon Moore had studied planning instead of integrated circuits, we might have a Moore’s Law of Municipal Plans, which arguably double in number and subject every 39.3 months (yeah, I made that up).
There’s a room on the ground floor of the City Administration Building where all the plans of yesteryear are arrayed on floor-to-ceiling shelves. You can peruse the beautifully bound Banning-Lewis Ranch master plan from the late 1980s, or the eight-volume Greater Colorado Springs Strategic Planning and Data Analysis, compiled between June, 1993 and November, 1994. You might even find the Colorado Springs and El Paso County Community (nuclear) Shelter Plan from 1968, which includes a map of fallout shelters. As far as I know, it’s never been updated.
Plans, like computer chips, have a short lifespan. They’re first imagined, then created and finally exposed to the market. Some work, some don’t. Some help businesses, others hinder. Some guide decision making for years (e.g., the Comprehensive Plan and its subsequent iterations), while others are ignored, irrelevant or inoperable.
Consider the 10 city-designated urban renewal areas. Intended to take advantage of state laws that aid the development of blighted urban areas, developers and city officials merrily designated a suburban green field as blighted. Why? Because it had no roads.
Not surprisingly, Polaris Pointe has been a great success — proving that when handouts are available, the biggest dogs get the bones.
On Tuesday evening, a sizeable crowd gathered at Studio Bee to discuss/comment on one of the plans du jour, the new downtown master plan. In its present form, the plan seems commendably innocuous and business-friendly, removing barriers rather than creating them.
In sharp contrast, the Electric Integrated Resource Plan that City Council considered the following day will likely hinder downtown development, blacken our already dubious national image and provide no particular community benefit.
Yet no matter what Council may eventually decide, the plan may have little practical effect. If five Councilors decide to tear down the Drake Power Plant tomorrow, they can do it, plan or no plan.
Or can they? Not so fast: In the Community Shelter Plan, the ‘South Power Plant’ at 700 S. Conejos is a designated shelter. If the plan hasn’t been updated since, it’s still in effect — and would presumably have to be updated and revised before city government could tear down the old coalburner and thereby leave the adjacent neighborhood unprotected from nuclear fallout.
After all, it’s in the plan.