*Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on December 19, 2017. It can also be found online here.
It’s been almost a week since the 12-foot-tall blue frame appeared at High Point in the Garden of the Gods, and the sounds of fury have been deafening. “Shocking,” “mistake,” “an eyesore,” and “piece of junk” were just a few of the negative comments in response, spurred on by a local movement to “TakeDownThatFrame” and a popular online petition.
One thing is clear: the digital horde wanted Big Blue gone. And yesterday, they got what they wanted. The city had it removed.
My view is the frame was an earnest mistake. I live within a mile of the Garden and run there at least twice a week, which means that if the giant blue rectangle had stayed as planned through 2018, then I would have been forced to see Big Blue well over 100 times this year.
But then again, it was done. It had already been drilled into the rock.
The reasonable route at that point was to leave it in and watch what happened. It was meant to draw tourists, a rational effort in this digital age of selfie-snapping travelers, so Big Blue should at least have had a chance. Online photo tagging is measurable, so we could have actually quantified the value it might have generated.
Besides, we already make sacrifices that reduce the Garden’s natural beauty in the name of tourism, as anyone that’s stepped in a moist pile of horse manure there can attest to. And, never forget, cities desiring tourists that do not experiment to meet the needs of the times do not survive – airport-less Lake Placid in New York provides an Olympic-size case of visitor stagnation.
But more importantly, the energy devoted to “TakeDownThatFrame” was misplaced. Big Blue might have incited anger in some, but it was clearly not the threat to the city’s natural environment that some made it out to be. Especially in a year during which a chunk of California the size of Delaware has been burnt to cinders, it’s worth looking at some real ecological problems Colorado Springs citizens should be much more concerned about.
Consider Martin Drake – the coal-fired power plant that churns out noxious fumes right in the heart of the city. Even the most belligerent climate skeptic could not dispute the evidence of Martin Drake’s daily dose of harmful hiccups. What’s more, the fact that Martin Drake will continuously belch so near the planned Olympic Museum puts a significant stain on the new building’s rollout festivities. The irony is America’s Olympic Museum will occupy airspace that actual Olympians would shy away from for respiratory health concerns.
Also in the way of waste production, while the national average sits at about 34 percent, the Colorado Association for Recycling has estimated El Paso County recycles only 12 percent of all waste (to be fair, this is roughly the same as Colorado as a whole). How can a community that falls so far behind – mindlessly filling landfills with reusable materials – express such vitriol over Big Blue and a couple of holes in some rock?
And, while a little over a month ago Ballot Issue 2A passed, a measure designed to address stormwater infrastructure issues so dire that federal and state lawsuits threatened to compel the city into compliance – the vote was relatively close with nearly 47 percent opposed. If the basic obligations of sanitation are hotly debated and nearly cast aside, then how does society find the capacity for moral outrage at Big Blue?
The point isn’t to call attention to hypocrisy. Particularly because the folks that wanted Big Blue removed are likely on the consistent “right” side of these three environmental issues. They probably support early closure for Martin Drake (in 2030 or even 2025). Of course they are entitled to their convictions.
But those that championed Big Blue’s removal have also surely misplaced their energy. Priorities matter: before attacking minor aesthetic issues, perhaps they ought to have used that passion for problems that carry real consequences.
Big Blue didn’t harm a soul. And, who knows, it might have drawn tourists to town.
But there is one thing that is certain: the angry mob that formed to rip Big Blue down could have channeled their energy to better ends. They’ve got the right war but picked the wrong fight.