What city project required 53 staffers, an 18-person steering committee, drew 9,000 participants and generated 24,508 social media posts? Such a vast effort in the private sector might signal the construction of a cluster of high-rise buildings or the creation of a soon-to-be billion-dollar company. But we’re talking city government, so don’t expect anything so vulgarly tangible.
After a gestation period of more than two years, let’s welcome the city’s new comprehensive plan to its own special place in the electronic ether. PlanCOS (available at coloradosprings.gov/plancos) survived its first reading before Colorado Springs City Council on Tuesday, and will reach the end of the approval process after a second reading.
To one who has long been dismayed by the turgid prose, drearily bureaucratic mindset and general cluelessness of such plans, this new iteration is a wonderful surprise. It’s thoughtful, reasonably concise and full of useful insights.
Past comprehensive plans were meant to guide, direct and shape future development — at least in theory. In practice, the guidelines were so vague that almost any development could be said to conform with the plan’s parameters.
The multiple authors of PlanCOS avoided such traps. The plan isn’t terribly prescriptive, but rather an extended portrait of the city as it is and as it may be. As you’d expect, there are plenty of graphs and pie charts, but many more intelligent analyses of issues. There’s no snooty sense of expert infallibility in these pages, but rather one of competence, hard work and patience. Commendably, the authors seem to understand the city’s laissez-faire, regulation-averse political and business culture. Consider this paragraph, which may not altogether please historic preservation and neighborhood advocates:
“We value the preservation of our built environment, especially our historic buildings and areas. But, for our city to be even more competitive, we also need areas to infill and adapt in response to a myriad of trends including demographics, technology, and the market. As a community we should embrace the prospect of managed, thoughtful, and forward-thinking changes in land use by reinvesting in key areas.”
But wait a minute! That’s just the kind of development-friendly thinking that residents of the Old North End had to fight for decades to preserve that extraordinary neighborhood from commercial intrusion. As a Westside resident, I’m somewhat disturbed by PlanCOS’ affection for “forward-looking changes” in land use, particularly because ours is a relatively poor neighborhood with neither the resources nor the skills to fight city hall (Sallie Clark, where are you when we need you?!).
The planners sometimes make wry points with simple reportage.
“Public transit options are increasing in many downtowns, with cities across the U.S. attempting to make the transit experience more enticing,” the plan states. “Streetcar investment is on the rise, though returns on this particular transit option are inconsistent across markets. Rapidly growing southern and western cities are experiencing excellent results in coordinated efforts to focus development around new light rail corridors, while Bus Rapid Transit investment across the country has consistently proven to be the most cost-effective and reliable improvement to public transit systems. Transit riders continue to prioritize commute time, reliability, expense, and distance from home and work when selecting transit options.”
Translated: Forget about your choo-choo and clang-goes-the-bell dreams, street rail aficionados! This is Colorado Springs, so just take the bus. Other sections of the plan discuss falling automobile ownership and use among Millennials, and suggest that Uber, Lyft, bicycles, autonomous vehicles and auto sharing will fill future transit gaps.
And as for your treasured view of Pikes Peak — think again.
“As a city we do not regulate private property view protection,” PlanCOS states. “However, we do build and design our streets, parks and public places to respect and share our beautiful vistas. Maintaining the integrity of our natural environment means we have a goal of determining and implementing the most effective ways to be stewards of our environment, as our city grows.”
Translated: If the much-bruited 100-story downtown building breaks ground in early 2020, don’t complain that it’ll ruin your view of the mountains. Just remember that ours is a creative, entrepreneurial and dynamic community. So do what Spencer Penrose, Gen. William Palmer or Phil Anschutz would do: Build a 120-story building two blocks to the west.