Chuck Brown. John Cassiani. Chuck Wielgus. It was another week of loss in Colorado Springs, another week of mourning the deaths of community leaders past and present.
When I turned 70 six years ago, my childhood friend Tim Collins gave me some advice.
“Anything over 70 is ‘bonus time’,” he said, “Don’t waste it!”
Arriving back in my hometown in 1981 after 20 years away, I felt defeated and adrift. I was 40, unemployed and more or less broke. My spouse and I had two small children, a pickup truck and enough money to rent a house and live for a while until we figured out what to do.
I didn’t realize that we, in common with hundreds of other ambitious 20-, 30- and 40-somethings who had settled for good in Colorado Springs had received an inheritance. It would be up to us to care for a vast treasure, preserve it, add to it and pass it on.
We inherited the city. There were no William Palmers or Spencer Penroses among us, but there were builders like Steve Schuck and Chuck Murphy, artists like Floyd Tunson and Don Green, politicians like Chuck Brown and Mary Lou Makepeace, power couples like Murray and Betty Ross, and philanthropists like Bill Hybl and Kathy Loo. Many of us are still around and still in the game, but now it’s your turn — so here are some thoughts.
To avoid squandering your inheritance, first figure out what you’ve received. Those purple mountains and fruited plains need careful stewardship, or future fires and urban sprawl will change them irrevocably. You need to continue the work of restoring our muddy, partially channelized creeks, and encourage the renovation and preservation of historic buildings and neighborhoods.
Take a much longer view of future transportation and economic development needs than we have done. Do we want to become Los Angeles, with traffic-choked 16-lane freeways, or do we want light rail and trolleys? Can you create, fund and initiate a 20-year multi-modal transportation plan to transform Colorado Springs and the Front Range? Or do you want to compound the mistakes of the past?
Don’t starve the public sector. If Douglas Bruce had stayed in California, our city would be more prosperous, our property values higher and our businesses more dynamic. In 1991, Bruce persuaded city voters to amend the City Charter with a severe version of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights amendment as well as the phasing out of a city capital improvement tax. Voters in Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins sidestepped TABOR limitations, and those cities flourished while the Springs languished.
Tear down the Drake downtown power plant, and move forward. Don’t cling to coal. And while you’re at it, pay attention to the looming reality of climate change.
There will be other challenges, ones that we geezers can’t imagine. But as you examine and analyze your inheritance, make sure that you know what you’re getting.
After the death of my grandmother in 1956, the family had to decide what to do with the contents of the house that my grandfather had designed and built in the early 1900s. It was full of then-unfashionable federal and Victorian furniture, most of which was dispersed at a house sale conducted by Ross Auction.
Among the furniture were a dozen odd-looking chairs and a matching récamier that had long gathered dust on the third floor. No one wanted them, except an antique dealer from Texas. We didn’t know what we were looking at, and neither did the dealer, who promptly sold them.
They were part of a suite of furniture designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe for a wealthy Philadelphia merchant in 1808. An identical set was created for the White House, which was lost when the British burned Washington in 1814. It took many decades, but the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art tracked down and acquired Grandpa’s furniture. It was recently exhibited in a major show.
“Inspired by the classical art of ancient Greece and Rome,” the museum noted on its website, “the painted and gilded furniture is one of the greatest artistic triumphs of the early national period.”
In our ignorance, we had thrown away a priceless piece of our nation’s artistic heritage. So consider your heritage; historic churches, leafy parks, quiet residential neighborhoods, schools public and private and everything else that contributes to the life of the city.
Your job: Learn, fix, add, preserve and protect.