The sprawl problem: Build up, not out
When former Gov. John Hickenlooper attended the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame's groundbreaking in June 2017, he was quoted as saying "Topophilia is the love of place. All of Colorado has it, but it is particularly evident in Colorado Springs."
Those who live here often extol the amenities and people that make our city great. But that love of place is also scattered. People love their neighborhoods — the historic Old North End, the not-so-historic Briargate, the quirky Westside, the ultra-developable Eastside.
Each may as well be a city unto itself. And our footprint continues to grow. Identities and priorities often shift from neighborhood to neighborhood. There are many quantifiable impacts from sprawl, but one often overlooked is the loss of a greater communal identity.
PlanCOS, the city's comprehensive plan, addresses sprawl in its introduction: "We are a large and expansive city with a predominant suburban development pattern... Missing in some areas are the unique and special places for these communities to identify with and gather in. Places are what make a city special and how we share it as community. The best and most special places have a combination of common desired elements and unique attributes. This Plan is about community building through placemaking everywhere in the city. The plan looks to incorporate centers in neighborhoods throughout the city."
So one way to plan for sprawl is to turn the city into several smaller cities. However well intended, this plan does more to encourage disunity than address it.
It says, "Keep growing. You can build your own community."
It doesn't say, "Come, be a part of our community."
The fiscal impacts of sprawl are myriad. A typical police patrol vehicle in Colorado Springs logs as many as 40,000 miles a year. City officials have noted that all city vehicles incur higher road miles than they would in most other cities with similar populations, due to the size of the service territory. That means higher fuel costs and faster vehicle depreciation.
Sprawl carries over to fire response times and piles up miles on utility vehicle odometers. Eventually, new facility construction costs must follow.
As for utilities, developments on the city's periphery will have to be serviced. The farther away those developments stretch from the city's core, the higher the cost to install and maintain those services.
Roads must be maintained. Omaha, Nebraska, with a similar population to the Springs, has a footprint of about 140 square miles and maintains about 5,000 lane miles. Colorado Springs, with a footprint of roughly 195 square miles, has more than 5,900 lane miles maintained by the city. Banning Lewis Ranch is said to be as much as a third of the developable land in the city, and most of its road infrastructure hasn't been built yet.
PlanCOS also conceptualizes a robust, multi-modal transit system connecting communities throughout the city. But affordable and connected transit solutions diminish greatly as the city creeps ever eastward. Expanding the city out rather than up will only reward developers at the expense of taxpayers.
Keep digging and you'll see sprawl's consequences spread to property rights and wildlife and the climate and efficient air traffic routing and energy production. We should learn from where we are today and encourage and even incentivize infill development and density.
The Springs should push community building rather than periphery building. Sprawl only makes monetary sense in the short term, and usually for a select few. It does nothing for long-term sustainability or a city's identity. We should focus on ways to build a community that brings us together, not one that breaks us apart.