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Is Colorado Springs taking the right path?

City Sage



In the 20th century, Colorado's population grew from 539,700 to 4,301,262. As measured by the U.S. Census, the highest 10-year growth rate was the period between 1900-1910, when the state's population increased by 48 percent. The lowest was 8.4 percent during the Depression years of 1930-1940.

The overall rate of increase during that century: 697 percent. If population growth continues at the same rate, the state's population in 2100 will be 34,281,058. Yes, more than 34 million.

And what about Colorado Springs? In the 20th century we grew from 21,085 to 360,890, an overall rate of increase of 1,612 percent. If we grow at the same rate in the 21st century, 6,176,979 souls will call Colorado Springs home in 2100. More than 6 million.

Such numbers seem unlikely, improbable, incredible, insane, unbelievable — but that's what the projections tell us.

The numbers don't lie. Growth in the 19th century (and in the first 16 years of the 21st) happened through both circumstance and plan.

Take Colorado Springs: It was founded as a real estate speculation, several thousand acres of rolling prairie lands on the east side of Monument and Fountain creeks that Gen. William Palmer transformed into a city. Then, as now, population growth was a major economic driver. Lots had to be sold, houses built, banks founded, businesses started, hotels opened, infrastructure created.

At first, the little settlement relied upon well water, then upon water diverted from local streams, then from a system of reservoirs and pipelines that brought water from the Pikes Peak watershed, and finally on a vast transmountain supply network of reservoirs, dams, pumps and pipelines that transport Western Slope snowmelt to Colorado Springs faucets.

We just spent nearly a billion dollars on the Southern Delivery System, the latest iteration and purest expression of our municipal philosophy: "Planning for Growth."

It's how we make a living. In the magically interconnected prosperity that capitalism brings to most (if not all) residents of Colorado Springs, growth always has been the fuel that feeds the fire.

In times of slow growth or economic stagnation, we do everything we can to restart the growth machine. We try to attract new employers to town, we give tax breaks and/or utility cost breaks to current employers and we keep a wary eye on the feds — we want more cadets and support staff at the Air Force Academy, more active-duty personnel at Peterson, Schriever, Cheyenne Mountain and Fort Carson, and of course more defense contractors.

We love our amazing quality of life, but we also understand that quality of life starts with our own jobs. No growth, no new jobs, no new businesses, no young professionals, no future for the city.

We have to live in the world as it is, not in some totalitarian utopia where population growth is controlled by forbidding immigration, sterilizing or aborting the genetically undesirable, and requiring eligible parents to pay for birth licenses of $100,000 per child.

After all, life is pretty good in the Colorado Springs of 2017. The local economy is amazingly strong, most of us are gainfully employed and it doesn't look as if President Donald Trump is going to start a nuclear war with his BFF Vladimir Putin. We have lives to live, jobs to do, families to care for and friends to treasure — we can't worry about the year 2100.

But maybe we should.

When I was 21, I seized what I now realize was the opportunity of a lifetime. With a couple of college friends, I embarked upon what became a six-year voyage around the world on a 40-year-old wooden sailboat. The college friends soon dropped out and returned to real life, but I kept going. The places, societies, cultures and biospheres that I saw have since changed dramatically, thanks to exploding human populations, global industrial pollution and anthropogenic climate change.

Those same processes are at work in Colorado and Colorado Springs. We can't stop them, but we can do dozens of small things to preserve what we can.

The old tend toward mournful pessimism, perhaps confusing their imminent demise with the end of everything else. Ain't so — life goes on.

Next week: 17 steps to a better 2100.

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