Thursday, November 09, 2017

Cheyenne: When will you get serious about your role as a city?

Tuesday was election day.

In Laramie County, we voted on a bond issue to fund three new projects at the community college. It would generate some $30 million for the construction and revamping of three buildings: fine arts, rec center, and a new dormitory. All necessary. But this is the second bond issue for the college in four years. Still, I voted for the bonds because I would like to see Cheyenne shake off its dusty image and plan for the future.

The measure was defeated 59-41 percent.


Meanwhile, 90 miles south, Denver voters approved a $937 million bond issue for package for roads, parks, libraries and cultural facilities. The measures passed by large margins. They include money for the city's big cultural entities such as the botanic gardens, zoo, DCPA, art museum, etc. The central library and ten branch libraries will get major renovations. The city will build a rapid transit project on infamous Colfax Ave. It also will build 17 miles of protected bike lanes and 33 miles of sidewalks. The city will revamp the 16th Street Mall, which has needed it for awhile. Bridges will be built and repaired.

Damn. That's a community planing for the future.

I know, there is a world of difference between Denver and Cheyenne. Denver grows larger and more expensive and traffic is a nightmare. Cheyenne stays basically the same, just how the old-timers want it.

But the old ways are getting really old. Cheyenne's 60,000-plus population makes it the largest city in the state. County population nears 100,000, which makes it the largest county in the state, home to one in every six Wyomingites. It is the state capitol and home of state government. Cheyenne is seen as  the northern terminus of the Front Range of the Rockies, usually described as the area between Pueblo and Cheyenne. One of the routes proposed for the Hyperloop Project is Cheyenne to Pueblo, with the first link proposed to be built between Greeley and DIA.

Cheyenne is often seen as an aberration in Wyoming. It's a rural state and many of its residents like it that way. In some parts of this windswept place, Cheyenne is described as North Denver. This earns laughs from Denver natives such as me. Still, when you live in Lusk or Thayne, Cheyenne is a metropolis with strange ways. Denver is, well, the L.A. of the prairie.

In the 2016 election, good liberals in the state legislature were defeated. We are close to living in a one-party state. Legislation is crafted by rural white men who won seats guaranteed by Republican gerrymandering. In Laramie County, suburban Democrats are represented by Rep. John Eklund.  During the 2014 session, he sponsored a bill that repealed gun-free zones in public schools. This, apparently, was the only solution to massacres such as the Newtown school shooting.

Those of us who complain are told to leave the state if we don't like it the way it is.

Young people have no problem departing for points south along the Front Range. My daughter Annie has lived in Colorado for the past year. I am with her often as she explores ways to live with her mental illness in a state that takes mental health seriously. I meet Wyomingites at every turn. The receptionist at the dentist is from Sheridan. Annie looked at renting an Aurora apartment from young man who happened to be a Cheyenne native. One of her therapists in Fort Collins had just moved from Casper. Teachers are in high demand in Colorado. One of my daughter's former teachers just left a decades-long high school job for new opportunities in Denver. A good friend who twice ran for the legislature recently moved to Greeley, finding a better political climate in Weld County's biggest city. Airmen and airwomen at Warren AFB live in FoCo, or spend all of their off-hours there. It's become such a challenge to keep its troopers close to home that Air Force brass has looked at plans to build a mini-Fort Collins in Laramie County. How you gonna keep them at the base after they've partied in FoCO? When alerts come and the weather is bad, the base can't get the necessary staff back to the base to man the missiles that might be pointed at North Korea or, as we like to call it, NoKo.

All this is distressing to those of us who have made it our mission to make Cheyenne and Wyoming a better place. Chris and I are among them. We have served on many committees and boards. We have planned hundreds of arts and culture events. We vote and work at the polls. We attend arts events. We drink our beer here. We own a house.

My question on this post-election day is this: When will you get serious, Cheyenne, about your role as a city?

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