What makes a city like Colorado Springs a desirable place to live? What is the recipe for a healthy and thriving community here? Thinking about these questions stimulates several reflections.
A city must have a purpose, a reason for being, beyond just providing a physical place where people live. The purpose answers the question of why people would want to live in a particular city, and whether stated explicitly or merely implied, it speaks not only to the vision for a quality of life but also to the diversity of values, beliefs, and traditions held by its populace.
Like all social organizations, a city has a governance structure that both manages the infrastructure and public spaces of a community. Governance is a means whereby a city endeavors to realize its purpose, however it is defined, and achieves its objectives in part by encouraging civic engagement by its residents.
A desirable city is one that appreciates and fosters strong social relations and organizations that cultivate the social links necessary for people to be involved in the life of the community; it is a city that recognizes that every resident has a genuine and valid interest in the community's vitality.
Another ingredient is a high-quality environment. Clean air and water, to be sure, but also public spaces that are welcoming and safe and suitable to both work and recreational enjoyment whether indoors or out.
A city is positively inhabitable when its residents and civic leaders pool their wisdom and diverse needs and interests to promote deliberate long-term planning to assure the responsible use of a community's social, geologic, human, and financial resources as well as to sustain the richness and diversity of its cultural and economic development.
Maneuverability throughout the city is important as well, and this generally means an ability to move from one place to another safely, conveniently, and efficiently.
A city is strong and healthy when it has the capacity to provide serious and robust education for all ages, but especially its youths. Likewise, the quality and availability of affordable health care can assure that a populace can achieve and remain resilient and vigorous in all the stages of life. Moreover, adequate and affordable housing for all a city's residents is necessary for any semblance of quality of life to be achieved.
While many other ingredients could be listed, one final ingredient essential to a healthy and thriving community is the intentional cultivation of an authentic consciousness and recognition of interdependence and inclusiveness, an awareness that, though we appear to live as a collection of individuals, we are unquestionably a diverse constellation of complex webs of relation and interaction that make human personal and social life possible. In these webs, there are forms and practices of recognition and acknowledgment, scripted and unscripted roles and rules that shape our reaching up, and out and over to others. Acknowledgment of being together and being in need of one another is a first principle of our various modes of spirituality and a basic assertion of our religious practice.
In short, a city is a desirable place to live when its life embodies a commitment to the common good. Remarkably, we thrive as individuals only when we inhabit a context that is patterned and structured to maximize the capacity of all to flourish. That which benefits society as a whole is the common good, and that which benefits the individual is the inclusion in the quest to realize the possibilities she or he seeks, the possibilities with which each of us is presented in our life's course. Seeking the common good means that we do not live in isolation from one another.
And seeking the common good is something the inhabitants in a city pursue collectively, with active and public participation in the arenas where decisions are made that impact the lives of those who call the city their home. A city is a desirable place to live when its purpose encourages its residents to express welcoming and generous hospitality through the practices of empathy and compassion.
Each resident in the city of Colorado Springs has a right to benefit from, and the responsibility to contribute to, the common good, the conditions which make it possible for all to live with a sense well-being and a capacity to achieve the fulfillment of a life's purpose. If all these ingredients, and more besides, bring a good life for all when mixed well together, then certainly we as residents continually face the challenge of tending to the recipe.
Douglas R. Sharp is a retired professor of theology and religion.