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Naysaying old geezer


I guess that I must be a dyspeptic, naysaying old geezer -- the Douglas Bruce of the left, if you like. How else to explain my bad mood after attending last week's Richard Florida lecture at Colorado College and the "Go With 1A" victory celebration the following evening at the Ritz Grill? And no, it wasn't a hangover -- for some reason, the received wisdom, both conventional and not, seemed stupid and self-satisfied.

Let's start with Mr. Florida. CC's Armstrong Hall was packed with Our Sort of People -- responsible, educated, astute, politically liberal. Colorado College president Dick Celeste had entertained the crme de la crme at a little pre-lecture soiree at his house; the front rows were cordoned off for the VIPs. A bunch of us non-VIPs arrived early and appropriated one of the VIP rows -- a maneuver that anyone who has ever tried to better his or her seat at a rock concert will appreciate.

Then the program began -- and it went on, and on, and on ... We were trapped in our seats for a full two and half hours. Florida gave a bravura performance. He's a famous professor and deep thinker kinda guy, whose theories about the rise of the creative class have gotten a lot of buzz of late (the Independent featured a big spread on him in the Nov. 4 issue). Mostly, though, he's a performer. He paces and pirouettes, pauses and ponders, seems to spontaneously generate Great Thoughts right there on stage ... And it's all as choreographed, scripted and controlled as the 238th performance of The Producers.

But it's still a lively, entertaining show. One remark stuck in my mind. Florida said that we, wherever we may live, all want the same thing: "We want our cities to grow and develop."

The next day at the Ritz, our local power structure spent an hour or so congratulating themselves on having persuaded the often-benighted citizens to cough up another $70 million per annum to fix roads, buy buses and even build trails. Again, I crashed the party. The theme was eerily similar to Florida's, that is, "We've done what we have do to ensure community prosperity through -- you guessed it -- growth and development."

Look, I don't know what we need to do as a community to attract more and better growth and development. And you know something? I don't think it matters what we do. Whether we build more roads or not, whether we put money into the arts or not, whether Focus on the Family expands or contracts, whether Fort Carson closes or not, whether we build a convention center or not -- we're gonna grow. Why? Remember the old real estate adage: location, location, location.

We're in America, an island of prosperity in a sea of poverty, poverty that's exacerbated by exploding populations throughout the Third World. We're the goal of every immigrant and would-be immigrant in the Americas and beyond. And they're coming as you read this newspaper, a migration of world-historic proportions.

A steadily increasing population means, in the simplest terms, that more and more people move to attractive places. That's why most of us are here -- it's a pretty nice place to live. And let's face it, growth and development create jobs and seem, in the short run anyway, to bring prosperity.

But what happens when you run the table? What happens when you project our present growth rate, and that of the entire Rocky Mountain West, out for 100 years?

The answers aren't pretty. In fact, they're terrifying. Our present age of cheap energy, abundant food, wasteful water use, clear skies and easy transportation will most probably come to an end. The convergent phenomena of climate change, world and regional population growth, energy source depletion, and agricultural stress may create a brave new world that few of us would wish to experience.

And what did the terrifyingly smart Professor Florida say about the distant future? Not a thing. He observed happily that we live in a capitalist world, where smart people can sell a pair of magnesium-framed eyeglasses for 400 bucks, thereby demonstrating the power of the creative class. And he was clearly pleased that he, Mr. Creative Class hisself, could afford 'em.

Responding, Economic Development honcho Rocky Scott allowed as how the future was bright -- we'd have great new roads for all the creative folk to drive on. And besides, we're already in the top 15 percent of "desirable cities" according to Florida's metrics, so let 'er rip: We're ridin' into the future, high, wide and handsome!

Dyspeptic, grumpy, naysaying ... No wonder I wasn't invited to the parties.


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