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What New York and David Brooks could learn from Colorado Springs | Vince Bzdek

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David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, has written a new book called the “The Second Mountain” about the urgent need for more fellowship and community in our country.

We must “renew the lost sense of community that afflicts an America whose churches, neighborhoods, and cultural institutions are all in decline.”

Clearly, David Brooks has never been to Colorado Springs.

I tend to think our churches, neighborhoods and cultural institutions are all in ascent in this town.

And our stubbornness in holding onto some of our Main Street values, even as our city swells in size and desirability, is something I think sets us apart from other cities that find themselves spinning out of control.

Colorado Springs, I’ve noticed after three years back, is a city of lunches.

A few lunches (and breakfasts) I’ve been to recently include the Armed Forces Luncheon held by the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC; lunches for CASA, Silver Key, NAMI, Care and Share, the Peak Military Care Network, Urban Peak, the Citizen’s Project, Teen Court, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Inside Out.

The Breakfast of Champions for Peak Vista Community Health Centers featured a gold medal Olympian speaker. There’s an Olympic City luncheon coming in October.

Next week (June 4), our sports editor Matt Wiley and his sports staff are hosting a Gazette Preps banquet for the very best high school athletes in town. Our stories about our student athletes are among our best-read stories on our website, better read usually than stories about the Nuggets, Avalanche and Rockies even. There may be more than 600,000 people in this town, but we still care about our kids like we’re Brush, Colorado.

“We’re the biggest small town in America,” the mayor once said to me.

Why are those lunches so important? Because they gather us in a tangible act of community, and call on us to contribute.

They bring us together in a common project, engage us in the grassroots work of community building and relationship building. We write our city’s unifying narrative at those lunches.

Cities work best when they are built on conscience, I think, when they are undergirded by a universal willingness of its residents to contribute to the greater good.

I might take that a step further, and argue that capitalism, which is based largely on self-interest and beating all competitors, works best when it is undergirded by conscience as well, when it is guided by morality and a shared set of principles.

“America is great because she is good,” observed Alex Tocqueville in his masterwork, “Democracy in America.”

“And if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”

We constantly try to balance two desires in this city, the desire to be left alone, for an absence of restraint, and the desire for a sense of community. What I like about Colorado Springs is that its citizens, though they don’t want anyone telling them what to do, are still very much infused with a sense of obligation to their city, state and each other. There is a strong sense of community and love of place here, something that some cities our size and bigger seem to be losing.

“When a whole society is built around self-preoccupation, its members become separated from one another, divided and alienated. The rot we see in our politics is caused by a rot in our moral and cultural foundations,” pronounces Brooks.

That just ain’t true out here, David. And his prescribed way out of our woes, the second mountain, the mountain of contribution, is alive and well right here.

“The second mountain is egalitarian — planting yourself amid those who need, and walking arm in arm with them.” It’s a mountain of “relation, community, commitment.”

“You surrender to a community or cause, make promises to other people, build a thick jungle of loving attachments, lose yourself in the daily act of serving others and they lose themselves in the daily act of serving you.”

You create a city of lunches, in other words.

I took a ride in an Uber the other day when my car broke down, and my driver worried aloud that Colorado Springs might begin to ruin the very things that make it a great place to live, the way many other cities have, namely San Francisco, Seattle, even Denver to a degree.

San Francisco has always been one of my favorite places on Earth, a shining city of hills, the Paris of the West, artistic and eccentric and staggeringly beautiful.

But friends out there tell me that the tech wealth that has exploded there has turned it into something of an unlivable mess: expensive, divided, elitist, hyper-gentrified with an out-of-control homeless and affordable housing problem.

Salesforce founder and chairman Marc Benioff, a fourth-generation San Franciscan, recently branded his city “a train wreck” in a TV interview.

“This is unregulated capitalism, unbridled capitalism, capitalism run amok. There are no guardrails,” Benioff said.

One writer called San Francisco a catastrophic success.

Cautionary tales like San Francisco’s abound for us here in Colorado Springs. The decimation of local media and the rise of nationalized politics, I would argue, have smashed the moral compass in many cities, preventing them from working toward a common purpose.

But here we still have a strong newspaper, which at its best strives to be the city’s conscience, and we have a community that doesn’t really let national political polarization get in the way of the local task at hand. We still meet face to face and work through our civic woes, gather at those lunches and regularly reweave the fabric of community.

There’s something deeply satisfying about dissolving yourself into a larger whole, dwelling in a place suffused with a love of place. I think that’s what I found lacking when I lived in a big city back East, the soul-sustaining fellowship of people committed to each other and to their beautiful city.

I feel sort of sorry for David Brooks that he hasn’t found such a place for himself yet.

Maybe I’ll invite him to come here for lunch.


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