Ours is a city that, like a spendthrift heir, has thrown away much of what fortune gave us.
We started with a blank slate: a few thousand acres along Monument Creek, a visionary developer and lofty notions of building the ideal city. We built, and built and built some more — until we had fouled our waterways, torn down much of the best of what we built, and given our fealty to Mars and Mammon.
As noted in this space last week, we live off federal largesse, cheerfully relying upon our elected and uniformed masters to find turbaned rascals in the Middle East against whom to launch trillion-dollar wars.
But that doesn't mean we're not a thoroughly modern city. We sure are, if we go back 50 years. In 1964, America was all in for cars and highways. If two lanes were good, four were better, and eight nirvana. Gas was 35 cents a gallon, so who cared what kind of mileage you got in your fabulous bulgemobile? Out in the suburbs, the neighbors were nice — well, as long as you were white — and kids were polite, lawns were mowed, and everything was new, shiny and smooth.
It was quite a life — and it's still ours.
Colorado Springs isn't a city, in the sense that San Francisco, Santa Fe, Denver and Omaha are cities. Those cities have a heart and a center. Outlying communities have a symbiotic relationship with the regional core, whose gravitational pull attracts investment, jobs and new residents to the area.
We're a collection of suburbs, disconnected from each other and from the city core. We have rich suburbs (Broadmoor Bluffs, Cedar Heights, Flying Horse), upper-middle-class suburbs (Rockrimmon, Mountain Shadows, Briargate, Peregrine) and poor suburbs (much of southeast Colorado Springs). The historic city core, consisting of downtown, the North End, the west side, Shooks Run, Patty Jewett, Knob Hill and Hillside/Prospect Lake, is both geographically and culturally isolated from the suburbs.
In a curious twist of fate, the city core is now governed by its 'burbs. Thanks to redistricting, the core is fragmented between City Council districts 1, 3 and 5. Suburban voting majorities control 1 and 3; 5 is a toss-up.
For suburban residents, downtown isn't a place but series of intersections. I-25/Fillmore, I-25/Cimarron, I-25/Nevada. And No. 1 on the list is Cimarron. If you live north, you want to hop on the "I," roll on down to the Cimarron exit and head for the mountains. On your way back Sunday afternoon, you don't want to deal with a couple of miles of backed-up traffic on U.S. 24. Similarly, if you live up in the mountains and want to get to work on Monday, you want clear sailing to I-25.
Fair enough — and that's why the state will dump more than $90 million into rebuilding the long-obsolete interchange, which was originally constructed in ... yes, 1964! The project will delight commuters and suburbanites, but not everyone will benefit.
Residents of the slowly gentrifying west side can expect two years of misery, beginning in early 2015 and ending (maybe!) by July 2017. Once the project is launched, local traffic will self-divert from U.S. 24 to Colorado Avenue and spill over to residential streets such as Pikes Peak and Bijou. Bike-commuting to downtown will become substantially more difficult, and north-south streets such as 21st and 30th will see traffic volumes skyrocket. (Full disclosure: I live on North 21st.)
And once it's finished, it'll be time to start reconstruction of the Highway 24/Eighth Street intersection, not to mention the long-delayed rebuilding of U.S. 24 (Midland Expressway) from Eighth to 31st. Then, as all traffic engineers know, we can expect "induced traffic" — simply put, if you build it, they will drive it.
So, west siders, beware! We're not so much a collection of neighborhoods as an impediment to progress, a few thousand moldering old shacks that could have long since been torn down to improve regional transportation.
As population increases, commuter transportation needs will continue to trump neighborhood concerns. Tax dollars will follow the traffic, so we'd better just roll with it.
Don't like it? Sell your house and move to the suburbs — if you can find a buyer.