Trust in American institutions is at an all-time low. Depending on where we stand, we don’t trust government, media, banks, schools, law enforcement, public health, election officials… It’s a long list. We trust our church, but we might not trust the one down the street.

Healthy skepticism is necessary. Blind faith and thoughtless distrust are dangerous. When our instinctive position becomes, “No one can be trusted” or “Whatever confirms my heartfelt beliefs or worst fears must be true,” we’re in trouble.

As a City Councilmember, I’ve seen the consequences of both these types of thinking. Last month, this newspaper published in its news section, “Neighborhoods vs. Highway: Constitution Avenue,” by Tom Cronin and Bob Loevy. This piece presented opinion and speculation as fact.

It gave voice to the provocative claim that the city was secretly planning to tear down a middle school and hundreds of homes to make room for a major highway. This was untrue. I spoke with dozens of residents who were afraid that their houses were about to be bulldozed. I read 200 emails expressing related fears and concerns.

The item proposed for the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (PPRTA) ballot this fall was not a plan to demolish neighborhoods. It was a feasibility study that would not have been undertaken until 2028 or later. Ultimately, we chose not to risk sacrificing the whole of the PPRTA initiative for this single study. At this point, you get to choose whom you trust less: local media or local government. But there is no winning in this contest. We all lost because we are — so many of us — fearful, distrustful, angry.

Should there be opportunities for public input? Absolutely! Our city staff and elected officials need to do a better job of engaging the public in timely and transparent ways. Our residents and neighborhood advocates need both to keep an open mind and think critically when examining sources of information.

Our transportation needs are not going away. Our housing needs are not going away. Our need to balance quality of life, safety, and economic opportunity is not going away. Will citizens and public servants choose to collaborate constructively on solutions to our challenges? Or will we simply assume that the “other side” is motivated by bad intention or narrow self-interest?

After months of hard work, planning, and discussion on the part of many, the City Council unanimously passed an ordinance about emergency evacuation planning. That ordinance would not have happened without the advocacy of residents and neighborhood organizations. They should be proud of that.

Yet some remain deeply distrustful. As several councilmembers said, this ordinance is not the end but the beginning of our planning to live safely in the wildland-urban interface.

Will those who were disappointed choose to work with our city departments to put this ordinance into effective practice, or will they assume the public has been duped and oppose all efforts at even incremental change? There is a middle ground here. We need to find it. How do we do that?

How can our organizations, institutions, and we as individuals engage in conversations about how we retain values like belonging and community in a changing world that seems eager to extinguish them? Instead of promoting fear and sowing divisions, citizens and institutions alike will be better served when we work to balance neighborhood interests with those of Colorado Springs as a whole. Let’s each ask ourselves: how do I recognize that while I have personal concerns, I am also connected to all who live here?

The next time you feel hijacked by a newspaper story (or a tweet or a comment on Nextdoor), take a breath. Examine your assumptions as well as the predispositions of those vying for your attention. Be a skeptic, but be a healthy one. Your neighborhood needs you. And so does your city.

Nancy Henjum serves on Colorado Springs City Council, District 5.

Nancy Henjum serves on Colorado Springs City Council, District 5.


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