Saturday, April 05, 2014

What does "Magic City of the Plains" really mean?

Can you be an urban guy in a rural state?

Sure. Urban centers exist even in the West's open spaces. Denver is the town that Colorado's eastern prairie loves to hate because, well, it's Denver where all of those liberals live -- and where the dreaded legislature convenes to pass laws to take away our guns, legalize gay marriage, force us to smoke pot, join the EPA's war on coal/gas/oil, and so on. The Western Slope hates Denver because it steals its water -- and they're right about that. Denver has been stealing water from the mountains even before Colorado became a state. That's true of the entire Front Range.

Cheyenne is the most urban of Wyoming's towns. In fact, it's only one of two metropolitan statistical areas (along with Casper) in the state. It's also where the legislature meets and engages in Cheyennigans (also the name of WyoFile's blog about the legislature). Cheyenne, the "Magic City of the Plains," was supposed to be Denver. Thing is, Denver became the home of hustlers and live wires and shysters and visionaries while Cheyenne became home to no-growthers. That wasn't always the case. Cheyenne was a flourishing rail and commercial center while Denver was still figuring out how to put on its boots.

From the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains:
Because of its rapid birth and ability to recover from periodic economic slumps, Cheyenne was called the "Magic City of the Plains." As the city matured during the territorial period (1869–90), it also developed a reputation as a social and cultural center. The city was notable for its opera house, the Atlas Theater, the Cheyenne Club, the Inter-Ocean Hotel, numerous retail businesses, and more than forty lavish mansions. The success and wealth of the city attracted western legends such as Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill Cody, Tom Horn, and Wyatt Earp, who rode shotgun on the Cheyenne–Black Hills stage.
Times marches on.

These days, according to Wikipedia: 
Cheyenne is the northern terminus of the extensive and fast-growing Front Range Urban Corridor that stretches from Cheyenne to Pueblo, Colorado, and has a population of 5,467,633 according to the 2010 United States Census.
Some of our rural Wyoming neighbors refer to Cheyenne disparagingly as "North Denver." They may be more accurate than they realize. All cities along the Front Range are actually Denver outliers. Denver International Airport could accurately be called Front Range International Airport except there's another airport with the "Front Range" moniker. All of the commuter flights from the Cheyenne airport feed into DIA. The same goes for Western Kansas and Nebraska, and all of Colorado. Most of us in Cheyenne prefer the two-hour interstate trip to DIA over the shorter "Vomit Comet" air trip to DIA. On good days, I can get to DIA in 90 minutes.

Many of us in Cheyenne get our arts and culture fixes in Denver. I'm one of a group of culture-hungry Dems who regularly get DCPA tickets to touring productions of "The Book of Mormon" and other Broadway shows. We usually have dinner downtown, go to the show, buy apres-show drinks and spend the night at one of Denver's many hotels. We know that rooms at the big hotels often go begging on weekends when convention and business travelers are at home.

Democrats aren't the only ones leaving the Cowboy State for a big-city night out. All of us -- Dems, Repubs, Indies and Libertarians -- taken together are a boon to Denver's economy. Denver pro sports teams have tons of followers in Cheyenne. I saw a number of FB status updates from Cheyennites yesterday from opening day at Coors Field. The Rockies even won, 12-2.

Cheyenne's membership in the Front Range bugs the Agenda 21 crowd. They don't want Cheyenne to look like other Front Range communities. You know, the prosperous ones such as Fort Collins and Loveland and Longmont and (God forbid) Boulder and Castle Rock. The list goes on and on. Cranky Tea Party types have flooded public commission meetings for PlanCheyenne to voice their displeasure that our county would consider such commie-inspired planning devices as bike paths, public art, parks, incentives for business and industry, efforts to grow the local entertainment scene, etc. Wyoming Tribune-Eagle Executive Editor Reed Eckhardt had an excellent staff editorial in this morning's paper decrying the bullying tactics of the "anti-planners" and the "anti-culture" crowd.
Problem is, Cheyenne was leading the Front Range before there was a Front Range. Just what do the [county] commissioners think the phrase "Magic City on the Plains" means? That people strutted around here in cowboy boots and hats and saluted each other with "howdy" for 10 days of the year?
In case you didn't know, that last reference is to Cheyenne Frontier Days, the big summer western bash in which all of us, even urban dudes such as myself, are asked to wear western gear and be friendly to tourists.

There's a reason that one out of every six Wyomingites live in Cheyenne. They have jobs. Jobs come from growth. New companies are formed and others move in for lots of reasons: tax structure, infrastructure, broadband access, climate, lifestyle. They don't move in because they heard that a lot of Know-Nothings crowded into planning meetings to shout about a United Nations plot to take away our gas-powered vehicles and make us all live in Hobbit homes. While that may be a quaint concept for 1914, it's not very attractive in 2014.

Growth comes, planned or unplanned. Which will it be, Wyoming?

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