Immediately after being diagnosed with fatal pancreatic cancer, Lee Milner began his last campaign for the preservation and protection of our city’s natural environment. He wanted to be remembered and honored for his work during the last four decades, and he wanted to inspire new generations of citizens, activists, public servants and elected officials. He knew he had done great things — and he wanted credit for his great work.
So he called me a few times and asked (or, more accurately, demanded!) that I write a column praising his many accomplishments. Lee and I had always been open and honest with each other, so I told him I wasn’t going to write his obit until he was dead. That didn’t dismay him — instead, it encouraged him to list his many achievements so I wouldn’t forget any.
Lee, you’re dead and I’m old, so let’s talk about the future. Here are a few things that need to be tackled in this century by our successors.
Water use and landscaping
Absent trees, cities and new developments become heat islands. As climate change accelerates, trees will need irrigation while lawns will disappear. The city will have to fund water-efficient irrigation systems and practices to maintain and expand our green overstory. We once bragged about being Tree City USA, but our city budget doesn’t match our preening propaganda.
The city’s first principle was growth, and that principle still guides us. That’s why we’re contemplating the annexation of a couple of thousand acres adjacent to Fountain to support regional development — and, not incidentally, to supply water to the proposed subdivision. We’ve been pretty good at reducing water use, but we need to be wise and careful about providing city weather to remote suburban developments. This is a time of drought and desertification, and the wet and wonderful climate of yore will not return.
A Sustainable City
Do we want to become the Los Angeles of the Rockies, overwhelmed by traffic, pollution, homelessness, higher taxes and crumbling infrastructure? Or do we want to create denser development, more parks, trails and open space, more opportunity for locally-owned small businesses? We need to preserve historic buildings while making sure that new developments within our borders don’t degrade existing neighborhoods. Easy to say, but harder to do — much easier to create problems for future generations to solve.
Be Like Lee
Lee didn’t care about borders, bureaucracies or other people’s notions of what was possible, affordable or practical. He focused on what was right, necessary and enduringly great. He never, never, never gave up — and he won most of his battles. He somehow managed to do it while being a successful real estate broker, a great friend to many and our city’s greatest champion. Even while bedridden in his last months, he never stopped scheming, dreaming, collaborating and inspiring. He led a great and inspiring life… and Lee, that’s enough fulsome praise!
See you on the other side…