As Colorado Springs studies loosening the reins on developers by expediting the process for getting their plans approved, I thought I’d look at how the planning process evolved.
Funny thing. The planning department overhaul comes on the 100th anniversary of the City Council’s adoption of its first formal plan for the future development.
In fact, the Pikes Peak Library District has published a book: “A City Beautiful Dream – The 1912 Vision for Colorado Springs.”
It’s the 10th book in the library’s fascinating regional history series. (It’s $14.95 and available at the library, the Pioneers Museum and ClausenBooks.com.)
The project started — doesn’t every government effort — with a consultant hired by the City Council in late 1911 for $2,000 to evaluate the city’s design.
At the time, Charles Mulford Robinson had established a reputation for designing modern cities. So he got the job.
Tim Scanlon, a former Springs city planner who now consults with Shooks Run Research, described Robinson as being ahead of his peers in envisioning how cities might be built.
“Robinson advanced the practice of comprehensive planning . . . that continues today,” Scanlon wrote in an introduction to the book.
Though Robinson plan never was fully implemented, several of his recommendations are evident today, said Tim Blevins, the library’s special collections manager who coordinated publication of the book.
“We use the plan quite a bit in special collections to answer reference questions,” Blevins said.
Robinson observed the strengths and weaknesses of Colorado Springs, based on research he conducted 1905-1911 for two separate reports that were the basis of his 1912 report: “A General Plan for the Improvement of Colorado Springs.”
Issued three years after the death of founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer, Robinson’s plan was critical of some of Palmer’s key design features: the wide streets and downtown grid.
Robinson said the Springs should design its streets to enhance its railroad stations, hotels and parks as its three obvious “focal points in the life and activity of the community.”
But he said Palmer’s “tiresome” grid did nothing to enhance community, calling it “as commonplace as Philadelphia’s or Chicago’s.”
He advocated disrupting the unimaginative grid by varying the widths of streets.
Wide roads would be thoroughfares while more narrow roads would discourage horses and buggies and become quiet residential streets.
His plan forcefully advocated building parks and playground and ridding the city of air pollution by imagining electric trains instead of smoky steam engines.
He advocated a height limit on buildings downtown and ridding the city of at-grade railroad crossings.
Wonder what he’d think of the city today and efforts to muzzle city planners? Hmm.