We’ve seen the future and it’s amazing and wonderful! Colorado and Colorado Springs may grow, but ours will be a resilient, sustainable, carbon-free, water-thrifty and thoughtfully governed state and city. We’ll curb forest fires, build passenger rail from Cheyenne to Trinidad, end urban sprawl, eliminate thirsty landscaping, preserve our rivers and streams, protect wildlife, end racism and ensure that every child can thrive. We will build that shining city on a hill, a fitting complement to the majestic mountains at our doorstep.

Yeah, right — whatever! We’re fond of make-believe, but let’s get real. As we approach our sesquicentennial, we’re firmly locked into the civic trajectory prescribed by our sainted founder, Gen. William Jackson Palmer. 

The general’s vision was simple: More people! He needed people to ride on his railroad, buy land and settle in the cities he created. They’d go to work in his businesses and buy the goods he transported. His successors followed his playbook, realizing that population growth meant prosperity for all. As Mayor John Robinson wrote in 1902, “We believe that the growth of our city must be continuous and rapid … and will only stop when the vast and scarcely touched resources of this great region have been exhausted by resourceful men.”

Since Robinson, we’ve had more than our share of resourceful men. They’ve brought water from the Western Slope, built highways and airports, established businesses and fostered population growth on a scale unimaginable then. The population of Colorado Springs has grown from 21,085 in 1900 to an estimated 478,221 in 2019, while Colorado has gone from 539,700 in 1900 to 5.8 million in the same period

Every entrepreneur, every small business owner, everyone who owns a piece of real estate and everyone who has a job understands that growth is good, new residents are good, new construction is good (unless it adversely affects your neighborhood!) and low taxes are fine. That’s why the canny Jeff Smith (a resourceful man if ever there was one) plunked down more than $6 million to buy a 5,387-acre ranch that borders Schriever Air Force Base on three sides. Described by real estate broker Jim Digby as “An historic, all grass, cow/calf or yearling ranch with top notch development potential located just a few miles east of Colorado Springs along Colorado State Highway 94.” Holding costs should be minimal, since Smith can continue ranching until the ranch is ripe for development. And property taxes shouldn’t be a problem — they’re currently estimated at $3,492.

Colorado Springs attracts migrants today for the same reason it attracted them in 1902. We’re a great place to live, work, play and raise a family. Life is better here than where you live now.

It’s the same siren song that California deployed in the 20th century. But as The New York Times reported in its Tuesday print edition headlined “Will California’s economy never return to normal?” times have changed. California is no longer an idyllic land of sun, surf and sudden wealth, but a smoky hellscape of gridlocked traffic, bizarrely expensive housing and 40 million disgruntled residents. 

According to Zillow, the median price of a single-family home in Colorado Springs is $339,146 compared to $587,412 in California. Sure, we’ve had some fires and floods too, but nothing like California’s. This won’t be the first time that our state has welcomed a surge of migrants from the Golden State. Back in the 1970s, we called them “California burnouts,” drug-addled former hippies seeking a Rocky Mountain high. 

But this burned-out wave will be different. 

“To build an economy, you need young, aggressive thoughtful folks who see an opportunity to build a life,” Los Angeles economist Christopher Thornberg told the Times. “And if you squelch young population growth with bad housing policy, those folks may well turn somewhere else.” As well as those young professionals, we’ll also attract geezers who’ll cash out their home equity and leave the traffic, fire and high taxes behind.   

So roll on, 21st century! Who cares that climate change, water shortages and overpopulation will eventually Californicate us? Sustainability is for suckers. At this rate, by 2100, Colorado Springs will have close to 5 million residents and Colorado will have more than 30 million. 

I won’t be here, but I advise my descendants to sell the house as soon as I croak and move to Duluth. By 2100, it’ll be the new California…

John Hazlehurst, whose great-grandfather came to Colorado in 1859, is a Colorado Springs native. He has worked as a reporter/columnist for the Indy since 1997 and the Business Journal since 2006.