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Taking a page from Dickens


So what are the best opening lines in the history of literature? "Omnia Gallia in partes tres divisa est ..." (Caesar's Gallic Wars).

"Call me Ishmael." (Moby Dick)

"In the beginning ..." (Genesis)

Good candidates -- and we could come up with a couple of hundred more. But for us in Colorado Springs, how about the opening lines to Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair ..."

And why is this so appropriate to us? It's because we are not one, but two cities -- no, not exactly the London and Paris of Dickens' immortal work, but two very distinct entities nonetheless.

Forget the arbitrary political boundaries that so obsess our local elected officials; they're just lines on a map. Instead, think of cultural boundaries, which are both invisible and powerful.

Take a map of the city. Outline an area bounded on the east by Union, on the north by Austin Bluffs Parkway/Garden of the Gods Road, and on the south by Circle/115/and Broadmoor Bluffs, and on the west by the mountains. Those are the approximate boundaries of a city we'll call "Blue Springs," a diverse, richly historic little city of around 120,000 souls. It's a city of moderate politics, a spectacular parks system, and a picture-book location at the foot of Pikes Peak.

Now let's look at its neighbor, "Red Springs." It's a sprawling, comfortable, prosperous settlement, mostly located on the eastern plains. Busy commercial arterials stretch for miles, servicing the quiet, law-abiding citizens, who live in suburban neighborhoods that were empty prairie a few years before. Red Springs is not exactly a city, nor is it a suburb; it's a series of self-replicating living environments, polycentric and convenient. Close to 300,000 folks live there, and many of 'em are white Christian conservatives.

Isn't this typical of American cities? The liberal, sometimes gentrifying inner city surrounded by white suburbs. Absolutely, but all over the country the barriers between city and suburb are dissolving.

Look at Denver, look at Albuquerque, look at Boulder. In each of those cities, the core city has become the cultural and recreational center for the whole metropolitan area. In each of them, cultural and recreational facilities have expanded dramatically to serve the burgeoning suburbs. But here in Colorado Springs, we've scarcely budged. Other than the World Arena, Confluence Park, and a bunch of bars, little has changed in Blue Springs since 1981.

If we're ever going to be a real city, healthy and mutually respectful, we need to unite. The folks in Red Springs need to embrace the fun, excitement and cultural diversity that Blue Springs can offer; and the people who live in Blue Springs should think carefully about our future.

Right now, Blue Springs is a town whose cultural facilities leave much to be desired. Would a convention center really draw the folks from Red Springs? Or would it make more sense to build theaters, art museums, baseball stadiums and amusement parks? Isn't that why downtown Denver is so cool?

It's absolutely heartbreaking to go to a splendid play at the Fine Arts Center, and note that the theatergoers are all from Blue Springs, and most are over 60. We can change that, but only if we ourselves change. We need fearless promoters, sly scoundrels and crazed idealists. We don't need mingy little charter changes on the April ballot; we need big initiatives.

So here's a challenge to the arts and business communities: figure out something big and wonderful and exhilarating and unifying, and put it on the ballot in a year or two.

And if you're too lazy, or too depressed to get off your butts, at least stop complaining about all the uncultured right-wingers in the suburbs who won't come downtown. Why should they? Why not go see The Matrix at the IMAX on Powers Boulevard instead?

So let's get going -- and now for the rest of the opening sentence of A Tale of Two Cities.

"... we had everything before us, we had nothing before us ..."

Let's go for everything.


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