At a City Plan meeting last night, there was a short discussion on the term “distinctiveness.” It was a theme in the 1997 version of City Plan as residents wanted to be sure that Fort Collins remained distinct from Loveland, Timnath, Wellington and Laporte rather than becoming one large Denver+Suburbs style metro area. But the word didn’t resonate with today’s residents. Instead, a “sense of place” was preferred. As one participant explained, we like and appreciate Old Town’s sense of place. We want to make sure that is retained.

I hear the phrase “sense of place” a lot, and have talked about it myself a great deal. But more often than not, when I hear local folks use the term, they’re referring to Old Town. There are historic buildings, great pedestrian areas, artwork everywhere you look, and performances throughout the summer months — all of which help to envelop the area in its own personality.

But what of the rest of Fort Collins?

How would you describe Midtown’s sense of place? Does it have one? Do you like it?

What about the Harmony corridor? or the North Fort? or the burgeoning north east towards Budweiser?

A great deal of work was put into creating a vibrant sense of place for our downtown area. Preservationists worked hard to save many of our iconic buildings that were at one time destined for the wrecking ball. Artists and advocates for the arts were instrumental in creating the Art in Public Places program in the 1990s which has led to what essentially amounts to a free outdoor art museum throughout the city, but especially downtown. And the work of Gene Mitchell in creating Old Town Square, followed up by the DDA’s care for the Square and recent substantial work in updating it, provide a pedestrian-safe place to hang out — putting people at the heart of downtown’s identity.

If we want the rest of Fort Collins to enjoy the same sense of place that downtown does, and we should want that, we’re going to have to work at it. It’ll involve the preservation of buildings that speak to the time of inception of an area, just as our Victorian storefronts downtown speak to the founding of Fort Collins itself. The Art in Public Places program is already seeding artwork throughout the city. But we’re severely lacking in Old Town Square equivalents in other parts of town. Jessup Farm has it to a degree, as does the central pocket of Front Range Village (Council Tree). But these communal hang-out areas need to be within walking distance of neighborhoods, and there needs to be safe and enjoyable routes of access for pedestrians that don’t include having to traverse seas of parking lots or high-speed streets.