It’s easy to take Fort Collins for granted. When I ride to the store, I don’t have to worry about where I’ll park my bike. There’s almost always a bike rack nearby. When I take a walk, there are usually decent sidewalks the whole way. Trees line the streets making them pleasant to travel along no matter what mode of transportation I’m using. There’s a variety of interesting architecture from Old Town all the way down the central corridor of the city. Parks and open space are within a short walk no matter where you live. And artwork is everywhere, lending a sense of beauty, wonder, and creativity throughout the city.
It’s not until I visit other communities that suddenly all that we have here comes into much sharper focus. As a resident, it’s easy to see the gaps. But for the most part, that’s what they are — gaps. They’re smaller sections of inferior or non-existant infrastructure that stand out all the greater because there are well built sidewalks, bike lanes, etc. in other parts of town. On the contrary, in some places I’ve visited within the last year, the situation is essentially reversed. There are smaller sections of well built sidewalks or bike lanes surrounded largely by no bike lanes and sidewalks that serve more to define the end of the street than to provide safe and comfortable passage for pedestrians along the street.
When governments are left to their own devices, they tend to default towards maintaining the status quo. The attitude is often, “If it’s not broke, why fix it?” Until, that is, a problem arises such as a rise in homelessness, or a string of transportation related deaths, or we experience a particularly acute time of drought. Reacting to problems not only often comes too late, but can also result in a haphazard response that might address immediate symptoms, but doesn’t necessarily bring about a cohesive, long-term solution.
But Fort Collins has been a progressive city since very early on. It had one of the first kindergarten classes west of the Mississippi in 1880, brought electricity to town in 1887, was one of the smallest American communities served by a streetcar system in the early Twentieth Century, and introduced the concept of zoning to its development code in 1929. So it comes as no surprise that in the 1950s, during a period of rapid expansion when the city grow by nearly 70%, the local government commissioned a series of studies regarding the sudden growth and how it should best be handled. This also came at a time when the automobile was on a meteoric rise, leading to a whole new way of looking at how towns should build and grow.
“Because our living and working environment for many years to come will be influenced by this urban expansion, it should not be haphazard–it should be guided into harmonious patterns that make daily living less complex and more rewarding. Sound planning is a major step in this direction.” — Harold Beier, author of the 1958 Comprehensive Plan Report.
In 1957 and ’58, Harold Beier drew up a plethora of documents that described the changes Fort Collins was going through and that included his own recommendations as to how the town should move forward.
The Comprehensive Plan was updated over time as the community continued to grow and new challenges were encountered. While Fort Collins continued to sprawl ever outward, there were also significant projects taking place in the center of town as entire blocks of residential housing were razed in order to build banks, a new post post office, and high rise condominiums. In order to address these types of development, as well as to offer more flexibility to developers, the Land Development Guidance System was created.
Addendums were added in the form of sub-plans such as the “Neighborhood Convenience Shopping Center Design Guidelines” in 1988 that encouraged builders to place bicycle parking near building entrances, but not where they would block pedestrian passage. Neighborhood plans were also developed indicating how those areas should be expected to change over time.
Eventually in 1996, Fort Collins City Plan: Changes & Choices was adopted. It was the first time that the City’s planning document was designed to look at a specific period of time — the next twenty years. Because the planning process began in 1995, the community was asked to consider how they would like the city to look in 2015. Preserving natural areas and a view of the mountains was, of course, quite popular. But there was also an interest in maintaining the individual character of each neighborhood within the city, building more compactly so that it would be easier to walk or bicycle to places, and even that art should be incorporated as streets were updated in order to make the city more attractive.
Though updates have been made to City Plan over the years, the most recent in 2010, our community continues to change rapidly. During the last update, we were deep in a recession. Since that time, marijuana has been legalized in the State, self-driving cars are no longer just science fiction, and housing affordability tops the charts as one of our most critical issues.
So it’s time to take another look at who we are and where we’re headed. Are we pointed in the direction we want to be going? Are there adjustments that need to be made? Are there considerations that weren’t even a glimmer in a planner’s eye twenty years ago that are now critical issues?
The City staff want your input in this process. Population forecasters believe that people will continue to flock to the Front Range with some estimates showing that Fort Collins will double in population by 2050! Where are we going to put the newcomers? How should we build so that we can fit them but long term residents won’t get priced out of the market? What are we going to do about congestion on our streets? increased use of parks and open space? or growing in a way that’s sustainable economically, environmentally, and even socially?
City Plan is kicking off on February 12th from 6 – 8pm at the Drake Center (where Steele’s used to be). To RSVP for this first event, or to get updates about the process as it continues, go to https://ourcity.fcgov.com/cityplan. If you don’t speak out, then how will City staff know to address your concern? You don’t have to have all the answers. But the more people come together and talk about these issues, the more likely we’ll find solutions that enable us to grow in such a way that old-timers still feel like this is their home and newcomers feel comfortable and welcome. The City needs to hear from you. Please consider getting involved.