It's not easy measuring how Colorado Springs has fared environmentally in the last couple of decades.
It is, of course, a whole different world today than it was in 1993, when the Indy launched. Some prices have dropped, like those for solar panels (more than $5 per watt then; now around 70 cents per watt). Others, such as utilities prices, have climbed alongside the cost of living and inflation. Below, a look at five areas:
• At the close of 1993, if a Colorado Springs resident were using the average monthly amount of utilities — 600 kWh of electricity, 60 CCF of natural gas and 1,100 CF of water — that person would have paid $43.28 for the electric, $23.72 for the gas and $18.88 for the water. By contrast, today that same usage would cost $71.63, $48.46 and $57.07, respectively.
"The electric increase matches almost exactly the increase in the Consumer Price Index for that same time period," says Utilities spokesperson Dave Grossman. "Natural gas bills are somewhat higher than the CPI increase since customers' natural gas bills are mostly driven by the wholesale cost of gas, which has increased significantly since 1993. Water bills are higher than the CPI mainly due to having to build the Southern Delivery System."
• Data provided by city park operations and development manager Kurt Schroeder only dates back to 1995, but it shows a clear boom in the amount of shared green areas that have been ushered into protected status. The most stunning statistic is open space, which grew from only 707 acres back then to 6,044 acres in 2014. City trails more than doubled, from about 68 miles to almost 140 miles, while total park land has grown by 30 percent, to 14,478 acres.
Says Trails and Open Space Coalition executive director Susan Davies, we were "late to the game, with a lot of catching up to do."
The Trails, Open Space and Parks initiative that voters passed in 1997 designated one cent on every $10 to support acquisitions like Red Rock Canyon Open Space, which "would have been a golf course and townhouses," says Davies, who considers our recent run "a marvelous couple of decades."
• The recycling industry has come a long way in the last 21 years. According to Waste Management spokesperson Lara Rezzarday, that company was the sole recycler in the Colorado Springs area in 1993, accepting only aluminum (which was recycled back into aluminum), cardboard and ledger paper (which became new paper products until integrity degraded). Residents sorted materials themselves, and when those materials got to the plant, workers monitoring a single conveyor belt further refined the hauls by hand.
Today, single-stream, which WM introduced locally, is standard, meaning residents can easily toss all items into a single collection bin, while more sophisticated technologies now separate them on site. Adding to the previous trio, folks can now recycle steel and tin cans; dairy and juice cartons; many paper fibers, glass, plus plastics numbered 1 through 7. As just a couple examples of recycled use: Steel becomes rebar, and plastics turn into everything from composite decking to fiberfill for ski jackets, says Rezzarday.
• Back in August in this space, we heard from adaptive cycling specialist Allen Beauchamp, who recently formed the city's long-overdue bicycle advocacy organization CSprings.bike. This was partly in response to a warning that Colorado Springs may lose its silver status from the League of American Bicyclists without significant infrastructure growth by 2016.
Offering retrospective perspective, city bicycle coordinator Brian Shevock says, "Twenty-one years ago, Colorado Springs was five years deep into its innovative bike tax program, which levied a $4 excise tax on the sale of every new bicycle sold in the city. However, our cycling network was still pretty bare-bones, and our trails weren't well-connected. Laws, planning, and design primarily accommodated motor vehicles. The last 21 years have witnessed an exponential increase of activity in the cycling community, along with enhanced infrastructure, better bike education and encouragement programs, and an overall increase in ridership."
In this same year that we've added our first protected bike lanes (on Prospect Lake Drive and Beacon Street) and a "green lane" at I-25 and Tejon Street, Shevock says we now count 50 miles of on-street bike routes, 60 miles of mountain bike trails, and 120 miles of urban bike trails.
• Looking back from 1993 — when to the best of collective memory our town hosted only two community gardens, Bear Creek and Old Farm — former UCCS librarian Judith Rice-Jones cites a March 29, 1933, Gazette reference to 320 community gardens "as a self-help project for unemployed receiving federal relief." World Wars I and II also helped usher in shared gardens.
But they declined in later decades, leaving us largely bounty-bereft until the recent locavore movement. Today's most accurate community garden count, according to Pikes Peak Urban Gardens director Larry Stebbins, is a minimum of 17. PPUG and cohorts' latest collaborative initiative is Pikes Peak Small Farms, aimed at restoring more miniature-scale growing operations by pairing newly trained young farmers with interested landowners who hold as little as one-third of an unused acre.