View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Thursday, September 02, 2004

Remote Sprawl 

I mentioned Durango's spilling out to the south below, and I wanted to give it a little more thought. The changes wrought by seem less like a normal expansion and more like a disfiguration.

Think about what a normal excursion to Durango would be. Some people would come here as a base for mountain hiking or driving, or might come here some special event like the Bike Rally. For them, not much has changed, just a little more traffic, some more people, and much greater convenience.

If you're driving cross-country, though, you pass through a dozen Durangos for every one you stop in. You might stop 2 or 3 times during the day, which means that 75% of your stops are transitory. The town needs to have a little hook to draw you in. It doesn't have to be much, just something a little distinctive. You want to stop, anyway. You want lunch, or maybe need to pick up that flashlight you forgot to pack. Maybe you just want to walk around, look at pioneer architecture, eating ice cream.

So you see Durango on the map. You've heard it's a little funky, with a nice old town, and a chance to stretch your legs. Seven years ago, you'd drive up, park, and have your respite from CDOT. Seven years ago, that's what I did when I went to Mesa Verde for Labor Day weekend. Today, you turn into town, it traffic, see the Wal-Mart, and you're back home. Stop and get the air-freshener here. As when you've gotten out of the car, and into the energy-sucking world of the superstore, the genius of marketing (it is a genius, and not an evil one), makes it a supreme effort of will not to shop.

By the time you've gotten back to the car, you've spent half of the time you've allotted for this little side-trip, stretched your legs, maybe done all the errands you needed to do, and you want to get back into the car and keep driving.

If you still want to go into town, you pass the old new town, the Days Inn and the Burger King and the City Market, where you could have parked and walked to Old Town. That's old suburban, though. You can't be sure that Safeway will have everything you need, and there's no charm in walking along strip malls and parking lots.

So what's happened? The towns have built the retail equivalent of a bypass road, without having to build the road. The old "Point of Interest" sign is still there, but it points to the Wal-Mart (for real). It's now a chore wrapped in tasks shrouded in effort to make that quick little our-long detour.

As a conservative, I realize that people have to live someplace, that Durango is a nice place, and that there are clear personal economic benefits to having a Wal-Mart around. I wouldn't have the government prevent people from saving money. But, also as a conservative, I want to take note of what's being lost.

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