Home grown

The day you first set foot in a town is forever imprinted in your memory. That moment in time becomes the benchmark by which you measure the future. Your first glimpse kicks off your history in that place, and as changes come along, you reach back to it as a reference point. In the case of Colorado, change has almost always come in the form of growth.

I often feel like I’ve been riding the growth carousel for the last 30 years. That topic has been one of the only constants in my ever-changing Colorado climate. My relationship with it began in Telluride, moved up to the Front Range, worked its way back down to Crested Butte and briefly stopped over again in Telluride before landing in Durango. Sadly, the back and forth hasn’t reached any solid conclusion.

Over the years I’ve heard all kinds of obscure remedies – “sustainable growth,” “smart growth,” “no growth,” “growth paying its own way” and “inevitable growth.” I have yet to see any of these concepts in action.

As a result, the word “growth” now carries a sinister edge for me and others. It has assumed a distinctly, carcinogenic flavor and become synonymous with 10,000-square-foot homes built primarily from endangered redwood, starter castles that are empty for all but a few weeks. It speaks to fur coats, the jingle of gold chains and credit card abuse. “Growth” has become emblematic of working cattle ranches becoming stockbroker retreats. The word conjures images of bright yellow Hummers parked in front of Starbucks. It carries a flavor of degraded air and water. And in general, it speaks to development run wild, projects that looked great on paper but were eventually built shabbily. For many, “growth” is what fractures that first imprint.

However, in all its other forms, growth is considered a positive experience. People speak of “personal and spiritual growth”; children grow; and in most cases, in most cases, the word is tied to progress.

Watching escalating property values, sitting in traffic jams and not meeting the new Hollywood neighbors, we can easily lose sight of the benefits. But growth also makes for film and music festivals. It’s the stuff of good restaurants, book stores, theater and a solid music scene.

Growth has given Durango something other than blue collar work. It has improved the local college, created museums and enhanced local amenities. Growth was at least partially responsible for the River Trail, the Durango Mountain Park, the new fairgrounds, many of the Horse Gulch trails and the whitewater park.

A handful of my friends grew up in Durango, and they imprinted their first memories of this place back in the late 1960s. All of them went out into the big world, experimented with the other side and chose to return home.

One night when I was romanticizing to one of them about my good-old days, he was quick to remind me that the Durango he grew up in was little more than a large, cow town. Growth in Durango has been more than box retailers, traffic, housing crunches, wage crises and a real estate boom, he told me. Instead, Durango has progressed to the point where he’s comfortable raising a family here.

I will say that I dislike gridlock, ostentatious trophy homes and urban attitude as much as anyone. And I have seen rampant, relatively unchecked growth overrun two of my homes. However, as I think about those nebulous solutions like “sustainable development” and “smart growth,” I see that they are aimed at making growth a positive experience for the community rather than the developer. With progress, it’s possible to make that first imprint of Durango little more than a memory, rather than something people are desperately holding onto.

-Will Sands




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