As we wrap up 2018, it’s clear there have been a ton of successes: the Olympic Museum taking shape in downtown Colorado Springs, the positive developments at the National Cybersecurity Center, the Exponential Impact launch, higher wages, new apartments in the city’s core, new businesses, new residents.
It all adds up to new energy in Colorado Springs that creates a sense of optimism and progress. There’s a feeling that the Springs is finally getting long-overdue attention for its mountain location, its workforce and its entrepreneurial spirit.
But it’s not all sunshine and roses going into 2019. Issues that loomed large this year remain unresolved.
Affordable housing is a big one. Home costs and rents are at record highs, and that leads to more families living on the margins, one emergency away from being homeless. Others who were already struggling are living on the streets, with friends or in the city’s shelters. Tent cities spring up, only for the police to dismantle them. Springs Rescue Mission expands, only to find a waiting list. Don’t blame legal marijuana for the city’s homeless crisis; blame a lack of affordable housing.
Teen suicide remains a problem for El Paso County school districts. Resolving the issue — making sure young people understand their value and addressing bullying in school — is vital for the city to thrive. Parity in health insurance is a state law, and requires insurance companies to cover mental health, but that doesn’t make adequate care a reality here. There aren’t enough therapists, and there are few psychiatrists to prescribe the medical regimes that could save lives.
Vaping and obesity are both on the rise, creating health problems and higher health care costs across the county. Access to care remains beyond the reach of too many residents, and hospitals are building in the wrong places to make sure every resident has access to affordable, preventive care.
While voters approved a stormwater fee to address long-overdue infrastructure demands, we’ll go into 2019 with a federal lawsuit still unresolved. The Environmental Protection Agency still wants its pound of flesh from the city for failing to address past stormwater drainage issues caused by water runoff in the Springs.
An adequately prepared and trained workforce is also an issue we’ll work on in 2019 — and beyond. Jobs that are available don’t match the skillsets of the unemployed. How do we train people for tomorrow’s jobs when technology is changing faster than schools can keep up? How do we retrain workers so they can take on high-tech jobs in manufacturing, computer programming, engineering and other sectors?
Remember that the Springs has to compete for state attention with Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins. And we’ll need to make sure we keep the lines of communication open, despite philosophical and political differences of opinion. Our future depends on working across the aisle and with our neighboring Front Range cities.
Even as the county’s population grows — we’re inching closer to that 1 million milestone — we need to make sure infrastructure, public safety and multimodal transportation are on our 2019 wish list. Well-planned bike lanes should join with expanded public transportation to ease traffic woes on Interstate 25 and the city’s surface streets.
There’s a lot to celebrate in the waning days of 2018: low unemployment, higher wages, more tourists and wise investments. But the structural issues that could harm the city’s growth remain. We can’t bypass solutions and hope they’ll get solved in future years. Solve them now for the city’s future success.