September 15, 2023 | OPINION | By Aditya Yadav
I recently took a late-night walk deep into Downtown Colorado Springs with a friend. I had not been downtown since last school year, and I was taken aback by how much it had changed.
Large red cranes have been erected, towering over sundry complexes, constructing the skeletons of proposed edifices. Noticeably upscale residential and commercial properties have arrived, promising shelter for a nascent demographic in Colorado Springs: millennials. With the higher incidence of business attire on crosswalks and sidewalks, there is an increasing number of people whose very gait is determined by the importance of their current phone call.
This new demographic yields higher-order leisure such as the $90 million Lumen8 Rooftop Social building. There is new, efficient architecture: sterile and banal in countenance and form, optimal for utility above all else. The roads have fewer striations and potholes, allowing for a seamless commute. Parking lots have assumed a new constitution, too – reverse bay parking is now prevalent, signifying people of industry who need to exit quickly.
There are new tech-related businesses appearing, such as RainTech, an Information Technology management firm situated in the heart of downtown, beside the now defunct arthouse theater, Kimball’s Peak Three. And with the IT influx comes higher-order illumination: LED lightbulbs are slowly replacing fluorescents.
Architecture has become more hostile – although the hostility tries to be covert – such as the anodized aluminum cylindrical speakers that populate the environs of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Museum and were blaring music into the night, shown in the photograph that accompanies this article. The Springs increasingly resembles a SimCity video game.
It was in 2011 when Colorado Springs adopted a “Strong Mayor” system. This is a system of mayoral governance that elects a mayor through voters and gives a mayor the ability to work directly with the city alongside a separately elected city council. According to KOAA News Channel 5, “The outcome is a full-time Mayor working in a role likened to the Chief Executive Officer of a city.”
Steve Bach, who was elected in a runoff in 2011 to be the 40th Mayor of Colorado Springs, was the inaugural mayor of such a system. He was a real estate entrepreneur who promised a businessman’s vision of the future, someone who offeredrefuge from career politicians. Yet his vision of the future proved to be myopic – a short-lived libertarian paradise that was run like a business.
Collaboration between Bach and the city council was strained and filled with animosity that produced gridlocks and impasses with regards to new policy, resulting in an unfruitful phenomenon of not-in-my-backyard individualism. Budgets were decreasing, deficits were increasing, and balance sheets were sub-par.
Then came John Suthers, the 41st Mayor of Colorado Springs who, understanding the provenance of the deficiencies afflicting the city, was able to sway the Conservative base to pledge more money in taxes to improve public infrastructure. He was able to rekindle open and effective collaboration between mayor and city council, decreasing the city’s unemployment rate, creating thousands of jobs, and introducing large beneficial projects such as the National Cybersecurity Center.
Suthers was the pioneer of a new collectivism in Colorado Springs that the 42nd mayor is now continuing with his new “unity” platform. Yemi Mobolade, the first Black and immigrant man elected to the city’s mayoral office, reflects that the Conservative base of one of the most Republican districts in the nation is not inveterate and is within the scope of reason.
Colorado Springs is enveloping a new ethos – a city that is transfiguring its previously mismanaged potential into stable long-term growth.
Still, there is a discernable American decadence within the negative space of economic progress in Colorado Springs. Parts of downtown are imbued with impersonality, while others present themselves through veneers and façades. There seems to be no real substance; things appear mass-produced.
Yet, what I noticed walking back to Colorado College during my recent late-night walk was that those upscale apartment buildings that are all very similar to each other are all examples of affordable housing. That new business is driving improvements to social infrastructure such as the $18 million expansion of the Springs Rescue Mission, the largest homeless shelter in the city.
Colorado Springs experienced industry similar to this in the 2000s, leading to gentrification and the displacement of 20,000 African Americans. And there are still very serious problems in the city such as the Colorado Springs Police Department’s long history of racial discrimination.
There is still much to be done, for which I have full trust in Mobolade. Relative to the Springs’ previous years, its value is increasing and, engendered by the previous collectivism, a new progressivism is in play.