Friday, April 6, 2012

Manitou Springs Newsflash: Informal, Intergenerational Council Forming to Build Trust Between the Generations

Manitou Springs, CO
There has been a strange hullabaloo in Manitou Springs, CO, lately.

We might even venture out and call it a controversy, but as the dust temporarily subsides, it is showing itself to be a failure to communicate. We live in one of the most beautiful, peaceful places on Earth. But something's not quite right. A lot of things aren't quite right, and we're all trying to figure out how to set things straight again.

The Soda Springs Park Safety Task Force is a symptom of the problem, and it is looking more and more like it is also turning into the cure. It's hard to figure out the causes of some of the unease, but in other cases, it's a snap. Let's take a look and see what has come out so far.

A Laundry List of Complaints; A Troubled Search for Solutions

It's hard to ignore some of the complaints coming out of Soda Springs Park over the last few years.  On the lighter side of things, there was what has been called a "bum wave" in the local vernacular.  It appears to have subsided for at least the moment, but for a period that stretched into years, we really did have a problem with pesky, drunk vagrants.  It's true that we have a kind and giving culture here, and it is also true that Manitou Springs is a very accepting community.

Some people take kindness for weakness, though, and we all became victims of that.  When I am confronted with human suffering and I have the means to alleviate that suffering, it is in my nature to do what I can to help.  That is a cultural cornerstone of Manitou, and it is something that was jeopardized by a small band of "travelers" who forgot to keep traveling.

We are peaceful people, so most of us do not feel right confronting another human being about the error of their ways.  "Judge not" is practically a law around here, and the more compassionate a person is, the more they are willing to tolerate before finally saying that another person is a problem.  There are many strange and eccentric people here, but wild actions and benign nuisances are a large part of why people say "Keep Manitou Weird."

Because we care, most of us do not view intoxication to be a crime.  We see it as a disease.  We see the addicts, even pesky, drunken scallywags, as sick people who need help.

And we try to help them.  A certain tribe of these folks fell in love with the compassion of the locals and the frivolous "generosity" of some of our guilt stricken visitors.  They saw that we would clothe them, feed them and shelter them, and they saw that our visitors would fund their addictions.

They began to feel as though the corner of Manitou & Ruxton was their territory, and they became more and more belligerent and violent as time went on.  They sat directly in front of the Loop and pestered exiting guests for their leftovers.  The made out in front of the Mate Factor in puddles of vodka saturated vomit.  There was a point where they got a lynch mob mentality and actually tried to gang up on one of the local artists.  There were a few altercations, most of which were not reported to the Police because the situations were too dangerous for anyone to stick around.

We, the community, were shocked.

Manitou Springs, CO
Believe it or not, a few of those skirmishes, coupled with the actions of law enforcement, eventually eroded the support structures that the bums had become dependent on and ran them out of town.  This was a full community action, but not many of us realize how we all worked together to make it happen.

It took almost four years.  The wave started in 2007, and by 2011, the message was clear:  We, the people of Manitou Springs, will not tolerate such flagrant disrespect to our community and our guests.  We will run major disruptions out of town.  We come together when we need to.

Something happened in those years, though.  The community's perception of Soda Springs Park has been stained.  The behavior down there got so bad over those years that many people quit coming down to the park all together.  Certain things have just gotten out of hand.  The stage used to be respected.  The wood on the stage used to be respected.  You'd hear 15 year old kids telling people not to damage it or litter.

You hear that a little now, but because of the wretched behavior that a lot of us had seen during the "bum wave," we just got jaded towards petty things like graffiti and weed smoking.  At least there aren't 15 hobos with a few gallons of cheap whisky pestering everything that moves for change and cigarettes.

But then another thing happened.

A local photographer who has been snapping anonymous street portraits for years was attacked for photographing someone.  In a move to cut the strap on his camera and take it away, one of the assailants cut the man's hand.  This is a guy that we've all seen around here.  He blends into the local landscape like a lilac bush, that's how much a part of this town he is.  He probably has volumes and volumes of photos where you can see generations of people growing up in Manitou Springs.

The people who cut him had no idea what they just messed with.  Not who they messed with, but what.

Manitou Springs, Colorado is historically a non-violent place.  People have laid down their arms for thousands of years to share the healing waters that bubble up from the Earth.  Now and then, Manitou does claim a life through violence, but this is a place where people are supposed to feel safe.

That sanctity was broken in broad daylight, and the anomalous activity of a pair of fools is branded on an entire generation of people who hang out here.  It falls from the public eye that the criminals were apprehended, but it sticks to us that this was even allowed to happen.  What were we supposed to do?  How does a community anticipate such a random act of insanity?

Manitou Springs, Colorado
I like to go to the city center every day, and I have a good feel for what's going on in town.  I did not see this coming.  There were no warning signs.  There was no crazy or erratic behavior from either of the perpetrators in the time leading up to the incident.  It all just happened at once.

This further alienated Soda Springs Park from the community.  If you don't come down, and you just read the papers, it sounds like a bad place to go.  The multigenerational crowd that hangs out there disagrees, but there has been no forum for this dialogue.  When people hear of violent crime, they seldom want to go to the scene to figure out the causes.

What daily park goers view as a fluke is reported as though it is a spiraling pattern.

Soda Springs Park Safety Task Force

We'll pass over the rumor mill here about the exact causes that brought together the Soda Springs Park Safety Task Force, and we'll get right into what appears to be happening.

The City is coming up with "solutions" for the Soda Springs Park "problem."

Don't let the quotation marks turn you off completely.  Some of what is going on is awesome, and some of what is going on is somewhat puzzling.  To say it outright, some citizens feel as though the Task Force has been assembled to come up with discriminatory policies to weed out "undesirables."  In a way, they are right.  The three proposals for ordinances that have come forth from City Council are, in my opinion, misguided.

1)  Shorten park hours, at least on a seasonal basis.
     Objections:  It takes five seconds to spray paint an offensive message.  If the park had been open during that last graffiti incident, citizens would have stopped the crime or reported it in time to actually porsecute.  Because the park was closed, the only people in the park were the criminals.  On the other end, the old man was cut in the middle of the day.  Closing the park two hours earlier at night would not prevent this.  This will only punish legitimate users of the park and leave it open to major crimes for longer periods.  Shortening the hours during the winter will do nothing to inhibit bum activity, as bums are only active here in summer.

Manitou Springs, Colorado
2)  Close the pavilion to reservations only.
     Objections:  That immediately makes the public park, which is dedicated to all future generations of residents and guests, into a pay to play situation.  People who have more money will be able to use the park at will, and those who are broke will not.  This is not how public places work.  On top of that, we can see now that this law will be enforced in a discriminatory manner, as the present bike in the pavilion laws already are.*
  What are the odds of the Police bothering a tourist for sitting down in the pavilion as opposed to a local?  I'd imagine that all calls for people in the pavilion without a permit will only be enforced on people who do not fit the "dress code."  I doubt people in polo shirts with khaki pants and comb overs will be bothered.

*Daily, riders on expensive bikes coming down from Williams' Canyon pass through the pavilion at speeds in excess of 20 mph.  They are never ticketed, even if Police are present.

3)  No smoking in the Pavilion.
     Objections:  This is another law that will be selectively enforced.  If I call the cops on a tourist for smoking a cigarette, what are the odds of them actually being ticketed?  If a local resident of 25 years with long hair, dirty clothes and a beard smokes a cigarette, what are his odds?

These proposed laws have been described by Task Force members as "tools" to be used against "undesirables."  This is discrimination, and it is unacceptable in a democratic society.  It is the wink wink, nudge nudge, understanding of certain parties that these laws will only selectively be enforced in order to rid the city of people that are demographically not wanted.

"They're not breaking the law?!?  Well let's pass one that they're already guilty of!"

Let's not go that route, people.

The Positive Effects of the Task Force

There are some major positive developments to come out of the Soda Springs Park Safety Task Force.  The first one is that we, the different segments of Manitou Springs society, got to get together at a round table and talk about this.  We were able to speak to each other and express what we feel, and we were all left with the impression that this isn't really a problem, it's an opportunity for the city to get some of its internal affairs in order.

Within the task force, we are able to talk to each other in a civil manner, and ALL perspectives are heard.  I could tell that some of the people that I spoke with were surprised that I could even speak English, let alone form a coherent thought.  And I was surprised that they were nice, rational people and not Nazis hoping to have us all imprisoned.

Elderly citizens who are feeling fear were able to express their fears, and the younger people who they were so afraid of got to express their fears as well.  It turns out that most of us are really cool people, we just need to get to know each other better.  We need to find mutual projects that we can work on to mitigate this misunderstanding and chart a positive course toward the future.

Manitou Springs, Colorado has a friend in Roger Miller.  He is the new COO at iManitou, and he is an awesome moderator for such a touchy forum.

Manitou Springs, CO
Instead of cracking down with draconian measures and hoping we can arrest our way out of this, Roger Miller sees a future where the City and its citizens work together to nurture what is so unique and positive about Manitou.  Instead of finding ways to limit musicians' ability to play in the street, Mr. Miller is working with local artists to promote the best of the best.  This year, we're going to try to give them the spotlight.

Instead of seeing the music in the park as a nuisance that must be controlled, Roger sees it as a community asset that needs to be uplifted to the world class status that it deserves.  This, and other productive measures that will be addressed at the next meeting, are our alternatives to passing more laws outlawing more stuff to create criminals out of people who are currently breaking no laws.

That round table discussion is one of the most positive experiences I've had involving our municipal organization. Compared to a certain infamous session of Council, this is a breath of fresh air.

So, Let's Get Together Again

I have a feeling that we're going to reach a peaceful, productive resolution at the end of the Task Force.  The mood is too good.  The local summer concert series already has a buzz.  If you weren't buzzing before, start now.  Dylan James, Caleb Powell and James Galloway, Animus Invidious, Charlie Milo Trio and a few unannounced super surprise secrets will be gracing our daytime soundwaves.  We'll try to bring out painters, weavers, permaculture workshops, massages, and just about every other weird thing Manitou has to offer.

We don't need any new laws, we just need to continue the discussion.  Soda Springs Park is the topic of contention, and I think we'd all gain from moving the conversation out of City Hall and into the city center.

Let's start brainstorming about the future.  Let's get together and help chart the course before everything gets too expensive and most of us have to leave.  Let's listen to the 85 year old lady, and let's listen to the 16 year old skater.  I bet we agree on more than any of us realize.

When the Task Force ends, let's take those relationships that we're building and keep them alive.

Let's keep Manitou weird, so we don't end up living in Vail Junior.

10 comments:

  1. Adam, I like what you're doing and what you're saying. I'll give some thought on how I can best pitch in. Cheers, Dean Frankmore

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is going to be a lot of fun. Manitou Springs is a great place to attempt to show another standard of living. We've got the people here to develop alternative economies to hold up as an example as we move into the post-oil era.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well thought out, Adam, and well written. Beth Moorman

    ReplyDelete
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