It has been 106 years since a brilliant young historian, Frederick Jackson Turner, addressed a gathering of historians at the Chicago Columbian Exposition. There, he considered the impact of the frontier environment upon American history, and upon the American character.
Turner suggested that the frontier environment itself shaped the American character, one of "coarseness and strength ... that practical, inventive turn of mind ... restless, nervous energy ... that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom."
The physical frontier is long gone, of course, but Turner's coarse, energetic, exuberant Western go-getters are still with us, and still pretty much run things. They're the developers, the entrepreneurs, the ski moguls, the communications magnates and the software kings. They share common aspirations, common goals and common beliefs.
Unfortunately for most of us, that shared belief system is largely hostile to community, to preservation, to neighborhoods, to schools and to self-government.
What do they believe, our movers and shakers? Mainly, they believe in flux, in change, in impermanence. Denver's McNichols Arena didn't even last as long as ZZ Top, the group whose performances opened it in '73, and closed it in '99. Stapleton Airport was simply thrown away, replaced by DIA, which, no doubt, will be thrown away and replaced in its turn.
Change=Progress=Prosperity=Profits. To oppose change, in the view of the powerful, is futile, even mischievous. After all, isn't the essence of capitalism (to use Schumpeter's phrase) "creative destruction," where the only constant is change itself?
Members of our local power structure take their responsibility to this secular religion very seriously indeed; that's why they're foaming at the mouth at Council's ongoing flirtation with communitarian values.
Council seems poised to drive a stake through the heart of the Constitution Avenue Freeway for all time, by the simple expedient of transferring the city-owned railroad right-of-way to the parks department, thus creating a wonderful linear park instead of a high-speed east-west connector. Great for the neighborhoods; disastrous for those who dream of Los Angeles-in-the Rockies (Pop. 2.7 million).
Why so? Look at the map. The city can't grow to the south (Fort Carson), or to the west (national forest), or to the north (Air Force Academy).
That leaves the east, and the 20,000-acre Banning-Lewis Ranch. If you're gonna stick hundreds of thousands of folks out there, you need a direct connection to downtown, to I-25 and to the Garden of the Gods corridor.
No freeway, no massive development.
What Council seems determined to do is to represent the actual community, rather than some future community that exists only as a gleam in Economic Development Council Chairman Rocky Scott's eye. If local government embraces neighborhood protection, historic preservation and the creation of a livable city, then Schumpeter's disciples get the short end of the stick.
Maybe the new century will see a new breed of movers and shakers, who, instead of moving and shaking, will want to stay in one place and preserve it. And wouldn't it be deliciously ironic if our own coarse, energetic go-getters were the agents of their own destruction. After all, guys, you supported every one of those mush-brained, communitarian councilmembers!
Want a strange travel suggestion? Stay here, and make it better, not bigger.