'I can't believe we're in Colorado Springs."
How often have you heard this — or said it yourself?
I overheard it at the Patty Jewett Neighborhood Association Porchfest, a neighborhood event that played out on a recent Sunday. Three bands played on three porches over the course of the afternoon. Hundreds of people gathered in the neighborhood streets, listening to music, eating from the food and ice cream trucks, and enjoying a beautiful Colorado Springs fall afternoon.
Each band played for about an hour before the crowd migrated (on foot and bicycle) to the next porch. While it was rife with folks who live close by, people from all over the city were welcome. From this small neighborhood came an event that had a big-city feel.
I felt the "this can't be the Springs" phenomenon the following weekend at the annual Coronado High School homecoming parade.
But in this case, we're not a hip, big city. We're a quaint, small town.
Each year on the morning of Coronado's homecoming dance, Colorado Avenue is shut down for blocks. While the majority of the parade consists of the high school's teams, clubs and marching band, elementary and middle schools that feed into the Westside high school also participate. Parents line the avenue as the procession goes by, culminating with the homecoming court — this year sitting in convertible Corvettes.
At the conclusion of the parade, everyone gathered in Bancroft Park for an old-fashioned pep rally. (This was rumored to be its last year, and it would be a shame to see this tradition end.)
This is what a homecoming should be — the chance to reconnect with friends and celebrate the community.
As I chatted with friends, some I hadn't seen in ages, I didn't feel like I live in a city of more than 400,000.
Porchfest might have been the first event of its exact kind in our city, but neighborhood events are nothing new.
From the Old North End Neighborhood's annual gathering (happening this weekend) to Briarfest (a three-day carnival in Briargate that's already scheduled again for 2017), organized neighborhood events are thriving, as are the smaller neighborhood block parties.
When I lived in Mountain Shadows, 40 homes lined the two cul-de-sacs and dead end that comprised my immediate neighborhood. Most of the time, we would come and go with a friendly wave as we passed. But once a year, in late summer, we gathered for a party. It was the chance to get to know the neighbors better; at my first block party, I learned that one of my neighbors did an amazing Elvis impersonation.
I'd like to imagine that similar block parties are happening all across the city in a variety of neighborhoods.
Is Colorado Springs the biggest small city or the smallest big city?
As I sat wondering, what should come to my attention? Yet another best-city accolade from a national source. This time it's Money magazine, which included Colorado Springs in its roundup of the 6 Best Big Cities. "From East Coast to West, these six places offer the best of urban living at a price you can afford," the article says.
And there we are, grouped with Boston and Portland: Colorado Springs is the Best in the Mountains. The article noted employment is increasing, "outpacing the rate of growth in the rest of Colorado — and in the rest of the country." It also points out Colorado College's Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center is a gem that fulfills the need for more cultural programming.
I know many scoff at the idea of Colorado Springs being a "big city." And I agree, as a big city we seem to suffer from an identity crisis. We can't be all things to all people — and the interests of Colorado Springs' residents are incredibly varied.
But when we break it down to the micro — the neighborhoods — we are a city with heart.
We are a city that can host and support cool events one day and feel old-fashioned and homey the next.
We are a city that has the potential to quiet the critics. And to the doubters, I say, "Believe it, you're in Colorado Springs."