Little Books That Could (Or, the Leslie Knope of Colorado Springs)

Posted on: August 17th, 2012 by Patton Dodd No Comments

Does Colorado Springs have its own Leslie Knope? I think we may…

A couple weeks ago, my family stopped by the Monument branch of the Pikes Peak Library District to pick up some books for our weeklong trip to the mountains. Comics for the boy, novels for the wife and me and our nine year old—the usual choices, though I also happened upon another book that caught my eye: A City Beautiful Dream: The 1912 Vision for Colorado Springs by Charles Mulford Robinson. I checked out this little historical curiosity, wanting to learn the city planning vision of 100 years ago—not least, I admit, because it seemed like a fun way to grind an axe.

Like many Colorado Springs residents, I’ve long been frustrated by our poor city planning, the lack of resources we give to parks and public spaces, the unmitigated sprawl, and so on. Colorado Springs has often been a vexing place to be a young professional (and, before that, a high school and college student) because our town lacks the charm and sense of civic pride (and capacity for motivating that charm and pride) of other places I’ve lived, from Fort Collins to Boston. So I was curious: could this little book tell me where we might have gone wrong?

A City Beautiful Dream is a reprint of a report by an early city planner named Charles Mulford Robinson, who was hired as a consultant in the early 1900s to help the growing town find its way forward. But the book turns out to be much more than a historical curiosity—it’s a profound statement of that civic pride I’ve been missing, put together by Paula J. Miller, Executive Director of the Pikes Peak Library District, and Tim Blevins, the PPLD’s Special Collections Manager. The book is part of the PPLD’s Regional History Series, which includes a biography of Nikola Tesla, accounts of Zebulon Pike and William Jackson Palmer, an exploration of important women in the history of the Rocky Mountain West, and more. I had no idea these books existed, and I’m so delighted to have discovered them. I’m thrilled to know that we have a Paula J. Miller and a Tim Blevins and their colleagues who are inspiring a conversation about what Colorado Springs has been and could be.

I adore the show “Parks and Recreation,” and I often think of Colorado Springs when I watch it. Parks director Leslie Knope, portrayed brilliantly by Amy Poehler, loves her town of Pawnee, Indiana with silly abandon. For a while, she seemed ignorant of the town’s flaws (to name a few: endemic racism, stalled bureaucracy, and the neglected health of the citizenry), but over time it’s become clear that Knope loves Pawnee in spite of its problems. She believes that Pawnee is filled with promise, that it’s capable of becoming something better. Knope’s hope is foolish and gorgeous, and one that, from time to time, creates actual improvements.

A City Beautiful Dream is a delightful Knope-ian gesture—complete with repeated celebrations of the importance of female leadership in the city’s past (the Women’s Club and Civic League helped drive the original study) and calls to reimagine what might be possible for our still-developing town. Miller and Blevins’ foreward reports that in 1912, our 40-year-old city was beset with problems that sound eerily familiar to us today: “…the extremely wide streets presented challenges for pedestrians and costly paving, and the deficiency in developed neighborhood parks was in constrast with the abundant city park acreage.” Robinson celebrated the “inexhaustibleness” of the city’s beauty while expressing concern about squalor south of the Bijou Street bridge. Miller and Blevins call our attention to these old observations in order to awaken our concern and hope for Colorado Springs today. Likewise, a publisher’s preface by Chris Nicholl (also of the PPLD), reminds us that Robinson faced a hard truth as he advocated for proper city planning: “[A] city can offer its citizens only the amenities they are willing to purchase.”

Though I’ve lived in Colorado Springs for most of my life, most of my career has involved telecommuting for companies in the east. Apart from a one-year stint teaching at the Air Force Academy, my new job here at Bondfire Books is the first Colorado Springs-based job I’ve had in years. I’m thrilled by the PPLD’s little book in part because it’s a timely reminder of the ongoing potential for renewal in our city and the existing civic pride that dwells here—it IS here, after all, and I just need to tap into it.

But I’m also thrilled by it as a lover and creator of books. Little books like this—works of passion that have limited, niche audiences—are a wonder, and I believe we need them. We aim to publish many passion projects at Bondfire—we want titles that can speak to large and broad audiences, and also titles that can speak to well-defined audiences with unique needs. Titles that need to exist in order to inspire conversations that need to happen, whether in Boston or Colorado Springs or pockets of Pawnee all around the nation.

So: Bravo, Pikes Peak Library District. I can’t wait to read more.

A City Beautiful Dream: The 1912 Vision for Colorado Springs is available for purchase as an ebook at Amazon. For hard copies, visit your local library branch, the Pioneers Museum, or ClausenBooks.com.

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