As a kid, I was fascinated by chess. It was more than a game; it was cerebral, combative, intense and endlessly interesting. Every game was different, and the playing field never changed. No matter how skilled and experienced your opponent, you start out even. 

For me, the beauty of chess is best appreciated in the middle game, when choices narrow and the outcome is in doubt. You can play well and still be vanquished by your opponent’s brilliance, or play carelessly and somehow win.

Trying to thin out my overloaded bookshelves the other day, I came across a 19th-century chess manual Half-Hours with Morphy.

Born in New Orleans in 1837, Paul Morphy became world champion in 1858. He was a master of the middle game — bold, brilliant and never risk-averse.  

Born in Delaware in 1836, Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer was equally, bold, brilliant and inventive. He started our long game in 1871, and we’re still playing in 2020. Unlike chess, building and sustaining a city is a game that isn’t a game — and there are few rules.

So where are we in our city’s 150th year? Are we in the middle game, ready to keep going, fend off challenges and still be playing decades hence? Or have we blundered into an indefensible, unwinnable position that will end our run as a good-to-great American city? This isn’t chess — we don’t have to fear a brilliant adversary like Paul Morphy. We, and the generations of Springs residents that preceded us, are the architects of our fate. 

Covid notwithstanding, we’ve had a great run for the last few years. Here are a few reasons to be optimistic:

Look at the competition! There’s not another city in America that can match us in overall appeal. Ours is a young, dynamic, entrepreneurial and highly educated slice of paradise. We’ll grow and prosper in the future, as we have since 1871.

Capable government at every level. John Suthers may be America’s best mayor, and Jared Polis is a thoughtful, supremely capable governor. We have no idiots, ideologues or crooks among our elected or appointed officials.

And yeah, the mountains. That’s one of the reasons we’ll never be Cleveland or Omaha — nature’s grandeur diminishes the impact of lousy architecture.

Problem solving. Sometimes we step in it big time, but we manage to move past our own stupidity. The anti-tax, anti-gay populist movements of the 1990s have largely disappeared. 

Unlike most cities, we have plenty of room to grow and still retain our great quality of life. Water isn’t a problem, thanks to the Southern Delivery System. We invest in our future!

Other cities. Their problems are worse than ours!

 

And here are some reasons to be pessimistic:

Climate change. Drought is the new normal. Summers will be hot and smoky, Colorado River flows will diminish and there won’t be enough water to support irrigated suburban developments. In the last 30 years, the city grew from 281,140 to approximately 495,000, suggesting a population of about 850,000 in 2050. There will never be another transmountain diversion and we’ll have to make do with what we have (or less, as runoff diminishes every year). Goodbye lawns, gardens, street trees and irrigated public landscapes.

Transportation. Roads are inadequate, public transportation essentially non-existent and intercity rail a comforting mirage.

Affordable? With houses appreciating at 15 percent annually, wages stagnant, and rental prices soaring, we’re out of that category.

Republicans who have long catered to developers and ignored the concerns of lower-income voters in southeast Colorado Springs dominate local government. Single-party rule sinks cities, Republican or Democrat.

Infrastructure. Our sprawling city is expensive to maintain and upgrade. Higher fees and taxes help, but there’s no panacea.

So what should one do? Move to Iowa or Nebraska, or stay put? I’m staying right here, putting up with smoke, fire, spring floods and summer snow. We’ve always had problems, and we’ve always solved them. Cities are forever — they rise, they fall, they endure.

It’s your turn to solve dilemmas. I’m busy — have to study Morphy’s 14-move masterpiece against German master Adolf Anderssen in one of eight games they played in 1858…

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.