According to urban theorist Richard Florida, once-aspirational cities such as Seattle, Portland and Denver are yesterday’s news, struggling with their own success.
In a recent New York Times op-ed entitled “The Urban Revival Is Over,” Florida argues that big cities have become bizarrely expensive, that infrastructure is decaying, crime is increasing and young Millennials would rather live in the suburbs.
Thanks for your insights Richard, but we already knew that.
We’ve seen refugees from Denver, Chicago and New York land here in the Pikes Peak region for years. We’ve seen the trend accelerate since the end of the last recession.
We’ve figured out that the creative future of America lies with mid-sized cities such as our own; with Columbus, Ohio; Omaha, Neb.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Cheyenne, Wyo.; Fort Collins and Pueblo.
Some time ago, we suffered from “Denver envy,” (or at least I did), comparing the enlightened, business friendly liberalism of our northern neighbor to our own stodgy conservatism.
Denver built massive infrastructure while we squabbled. Denver built Denver International Airport, a convention center, transformed the dreary wasteland of the Central Platte Valley into a vibrant urban neighborhood, created a 122-mile light rail network, built stadia for NFL and MLB teams, renovated Union Station — it’s a very long list.
And Colorado Springs?
We let Douglas Bruce, our favorite felonious taxophobe, shape public policy for 25 years. We accomplished little — we couldn’t even patch our potholed streets.
If you were young, smart and ambitious, you left Colorado Springs and sought fame and fortune elsewhere — San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York.
A few years ago, attending a friend’s birthday party in San Francisco, I fell into conversation with a young entrepreneur, a successful startup investor. She asked me what I did.
“I’m a reporter in Colorado Springs,” I replied. “I was born there, left for 20 years and then came back.”
“Oh,” she said sympathetically, “You kind of gave up, didn’t you? I’ve been tempted to do that too.”
As the old song didn’t go, “If you can’t make it in New York/You can sure make it in Colorado Springs.”
But as Florida points out, the wind is at our back.
“[Millennials] want to live in detached suburban homes, or in an apartment with enough square footage and access to outdoor space that it feels like one,” he wrote on Sept 1. “Two-thirds of people born since 1997, including those who live in cities, want to live in single-family suburban homes, according to a 2015 survey, but the costs make this aspiration prohibitively expensive in most urban centers.”
Diving a little deeper into the data, it appears that Millennial family formation in Colorado Springs may disproportionately occur in close-in neighborhoods such as Roswell, Stratton Meadows, the West Side and Audubon. They’re close to downtown, reasonably affordable and built to be family-friendly.
City policymakers ought to emphasize public safety in crime-plagued southeast neighborhoods, support and fund revitalization of North Nevada and South Academy, and work to reduce tax and regulatory burdens on developers and renovators in older suburbs and neighborhoods.
Many current residents of these neighborhoods are aging in place, or soon will be. They’re not going anywhere — and city policies will have to anticipate the needs of mixed-age neighborhoods.
And let’s focus on long-term projects. Denver had a great 40-year run because residents and elected officials took Fleetwood Mac’s advice — they didn’t stop thinking about tomorrow. We’ve done just the opposite, but we’re still in the game.
What about proactive transportation plans that anticipate driverless cars and local/intercity rail? After 20 years, it may finally be the time for a publicly funded Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, for the Ring the Peak trail, for better bikeways and for the new Pikes Peak Summit House.
It’s long past time to close and demolish the downtown Drake power plant and finish transforming our waterways from drainage ditches to living streams.
Can Colorado Springs blow this opportunity, as we’ve blown so many others? We have competent elected officials, strong business leadership, filled potholes and Pikes Peak — location, location, location! But unless we act intelligently today, tomorrow’s growth and prosperity will bring us congestion, sky-high housing prices, isolated and impoverished old folks, increased crime and homelessness and, worst of all, bad national publicity.