One of my favorite Facebook groups is “Old Pics of Colorado Springs,” a nostalgic site where longtime residents and natives mourn and celebrate our city’s resplendent past. Where did it go, that sweet little city of 40,000 souls? Where are its quiet days, peaceful streets and deep silences? Where are the soft, starry summer nights when kids and dogs ran free through the neighborhoods?
As the black-and-white images remind us, gone forever. Neighborhoods change and evolve as generations sweep through them, as cities grow and change and as new residents build their lives in houses we once occupied.
“So, real bands — real bands are made primarily from the neighborhood,” said Bruce Springsteen at the induction of the E Street Band into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. “From a real time and real place that exists for a little while, then changes and is gone forever… They’re forged in the search of something more promising than what you were born into. These are the elements, the tools, and these are the people who built the place called E Street.”
Neighborhoods still create bands, particularly sprawling, diverse and raggedy-ass places like our own Westside. Ten years ago, my soon-to-be spouse and I were planning a backyard wedding, and we wanted a band. Were there some neighborhood guys who could play? How would we find them?
“Listen,” said Karen, “have you paid attention to those guys across the street? They’re practicing now. I’ll go talk to them.”
Twenty minutes later, she was back.
“They’re great!” she said. “We made a deal. They’re mainly bluegrass but they can play anything. They’re called Grass It Up.”
The backyard wedding was perfect, the band was amazing and both the marriage and Grass It Up have endured and prospered. As for the neighborhood, it’s still wonderful (if slightly gentrified).
The Westside was never planned. It grew organically and naturally, adapting and responding to social and economic change. The area has retained a certain outlaw sensibility, despite the sometimes heavy-handed city planning bureaucracy that both protects and constrains development in settled neighborhoods.
Future neighborhoods will be different, according to our new comprehensive plan. Most will be created within Banning-Lewis Ranch. Like Denver’s Stapleton, they’ll be the product of a command-and-control philosophy that descends directly from the suburban monoculture of Bill Levitt’s 1940s and ’50s Levittown developments.
Unsupervised kids and dogs running free on a summer night? Inappropriate and in violation of multiple ordinances! Well-behaved dogs will be welcome, if they’re on the leash or off the leash in a dog park. Bands? Sure, but no practicing or performing except at stated hours.
If the comp plan is any guide, these new Jenkinstowns will “integrate diversity of housing types, provide neighborhood parks and gathering places, connect to regional trails and open space, utilize smart technology and efficient utility infrastructure and maximize connectivity with paths, alleys and short blocks… They’ll include mansion homes, multifamily apartments, garden homes, townhomes and senior housing.”
What they won’t include are shabby rentals, trailers parked in side yards, ill-behaved dogs restrained by cyclone fences menacing passersby or tasteless lawn artwork (we said garden homes, not garden gnomes!).
Our brave new “sustainaburbias” will be self-contained and inward-looking, far removed from the gritty problems of southeast Colorado Springs or the cheerful chaos of the Westside.
They’ll be safe, boring, predictable, respectable, well-groomed and growing in value every year — like their probable inhabitants.
And who knows? Maybe a band or a performer will emerge from this dreary future, a Patti Smith or a Bruce Springsteen. And where would they play? The Stone Pony in Asbury Park was there for Bruce, just as the Westside’s Front Range BBQ has been there for Grass It Up, Woodshed Red and other local groups. We’ll see whether Banning-Lewis has any dive bars in the plan.
Meanwhile, I’ll do what the comp plan predicts — age in place with my fellow geezers. I’ll stay with bad dogs and scraggly landscaping while embracing the joys and problems of a truly mixed, diverse and unpredictable neighborhood. I’m too old, too cranky and too broke to leave, and besides, I love it here.
As one longtime Westside resident recently said, “Move here, die here.” But it’s the Westside — maybe the Grim Reaper won’t mess with us!