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City outlook, 1990 and 2011

City Sage



On Feb. 25, 1990, the Gazette published an ambitious, 112-page (no, that's not a misprint!) special edition titled Agenda for the '90s. The 60-odd community leaders who contributed to the fascinating document had concerns similar to those of some of today's aspiring leaders.

In a piece that could have been written yesterday, Steve Schuck advised us to "demand choice in public education... reject the notion that social problems are best solved with government-driven programs," and asserted that "Colorado still lacks a statewide plan to create new jobs."

Phil Kendall called for a "community-wide vision and goal-setting process," noting that "our community is indeed at a critical juncture."

Nechie Hall took the city to task for "its refusal to invest tax dollars in anything that will not immediately turn a profit or benefit every taxpayer every day, from groundbreaking until doomsday."

James Miller, president of the Urban League, took a similar tack, saying that "my assessment of the community suggests that a majority of our decisions are driven by self-interest with little regard for the future beyond what's good for 'me,' what's good for today."

Then-Mayor Bob Isaac took issue with a New York Times article calling Colorado Springs the "foreclosure capital of America," thanks to hundreds of sour real-estate loans, notably a $240 million note owed by (hold your breath!) the owners of Banning-Lewis Ranch. Mayor Bob correctly predicted that the foreclosure crisis was no crisis at all, and that growth would soon resume.

"What kind of lending institution would lend $240 million to [Banning-Lewis], scheduled to be built out in 68 years at the earliest, in an already overbuilt community?" Isaac asked.

In a broad-based poll of Pikes Peak region residents, 68 percent of respondents picked "expanding the economic base/more jobs" as one of the top issues facing the region, followed by improving K-12 education, crime/public safety, and preserving the environment, all cited by more than 50 percent.

Sounds just like today, doesn't it?


The city that the daily and its readers so passionately dissected and discussed was one of reasoned debate, shared goals and confident expectations. With one exception, contributors were proud of the city, full of ideas to improve it, and ready to work together to build America's finest small city.

They couldn't have imagined the next 20 years. They couldn't have imagined Dr. James Dobson, Douglas Bruce, 9/11, and a decade of war. They couldn't have imagined that the Great Recession would transform Colorado Springs from a diverse, prosperous metropolitan area into a military base with pretensions. They would have refused to believe that the city would cut 80 percent of its parks budget, turn off streetlights and close swimming pools. They wouldn't have recognized today's shabby, dispirited city.

The leaders we'll elect next Tuesday may pretend to feel the city's traditional optimism, but many are profoundly pessimistic. They're used to a fragmented and angry electorate, with a permanent majority unwilling to agree to a revenue structure that will support once-traditional levels of city service. Aside from Richard Skorman, Jan Martin and Brandy Williams, not a single candidate has offered a vision of a remade city, one (for example) without a coal-fired power plant in the middle of downtown and with an expanded network of parks, trails, bike paths and open space.

For the most part, others' platforms aren't blueprints for the future, but admissions of defeat. Sell Memorial, turn over Utilities to a more "professional" board, reduce city salaries, and silence neighborhood voices on land-use decisions? These folks don't want to govern; they want to pass the buck.

One contributor to the 1990 special edition shunned the notion of a proud city ready to move forward, calling instead for draconian restrictions on local and state governments of all kinds. Douglas Bruce's lengthy letter calling for approval of his then-obscure tax limitation amendment to the Colorado constitution was buried deep within one of the sections.

His vision triumphed. And if he triumphs again Tuesday, along with his Reform Team running for Council, here's a new mission statement for the city:

"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings / Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!"

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