Letter to the Editor: County, community bent on destruction

Dear Editor:
Why do the elected officials of this county and community seem so bent on destroying historic and landmark buildings and icons?
Now it is reported that the hospital district plans to demolish the classic red sandstone Pioneers Hospital building rather than trying to save and repurpose that unique structure made possible by the generosity of Freeman E. Fairfield in the late 1940s.
Is this the way to honor the tremendous gift and legacy to the community that Fairfield so generously and altruistically provided? The trend now seems to be tear down historic icons and turn them into parking lots or replace them with ticky-tacky modern faceless buildings that have no historic value or legacy.
The folks who make those decisions are apparently very unknowing and uncaring of the value of historic structures and their potential contribution to economic development.
Edward T. McMahon, a renowned urban planner wrote: “Around the world, cities are seeking the recipe for economic success in a rapidly changing global marketplace. Indispensable assets in a post-industrial economy include: well-educated people, the ability to generate new ideas and to turn those ideas into commercial realities, connectivity to global markets and multi-modal transportation infrastructure. Another critical—but often forgotten—asset is community distinctiveness.
“If I have learned anything from my career in urban planning, it is this: A community’s appeal drives economic prosperity. I have also learned that while change is inevitable, the destruction of a community’s unique character and identity is not. Progress does not demand degraded surroundings. Communities can grow without destroying the things people love.”
In 2010, the Knight Foundation teamed up with Gallup pollsters to survey 43,000 people in 26 cities where Knight-Ridder had newspapers. The so-called Soul of the Community Survey was designed to answer questions such as: What makes residents love where they live? What attracts people to a place and keeps them there?
The study found that the most important factors that create emotional bonds between people and their community were not jobs and the economy, but rather “physical beauty, opportunities for socializing and a city’s openness to all people.” The Knight Foundation also found that communities with the highest levels of attachment also had the highest rates of gross domestic product growth and the strongest economies.
Place is more than just a location on a map. A sense of place is a unique collection of qualities and characteristics—visual, cultural, social and environmental—that provide meaning to a location. Sense of place is what makes one city or town different from another, but sense of place is also what makes our physical surroundings worth caring about.
Author Wallace Stegner once said, “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.” We all need a point of reference and orientation. A community’s unique identity provides that orientation, while also adding economic and social value. To foster distinctiveness, cities must plan for built environments and settlement patterns that are uplifting and memorable and that foster a sense of belonging and stewardship by residents.”
If you travel in the East and Midwest of this nation, or in Europe, Asia and most other international communities, historic preservation is regarded as a high priority and a basis for stimulating heritage tourism.
The economy of Colorado benefits greatly, even in difficult economic times, through the highest source of income from heritage and agri-tourism, more than any other industry. Tourism brings new money into the communities and the county more than any other resource.
Tourists from Europe and Asia have substantial disposable income and travel extensively in the U.S. and particularly in Colorado. Because of lack of adequate promotion via the Internet, Rio Blanco County continues to remain among the “best- kept secrets in northwestern Colorado.”
Tourists from throughout the world want to see and experience communities that are truly icons of the “Old West.” Meeker, Rangely and Rio Blanco County are in desperate shape economically. Ask the merchants and service providers how well they are doing. The answers include: “…terrible, barely hanging on, thinking of closing and moving, don’t know how I can keep going if it stays like this….”
Some rural communities in Colorado are already ghost towns in the last decade and more are on the verge of becoming abandoned.
Sadly, the elected officials don’t see the connection between having a unique and irreplaceable tourist attraction that if repurposed as a community center could be the flagship attraction for heritage and agri-tourism. Think it doesn’t work? Take a look at Delta and Delta County, Steamboat Springs, Breckenridge, Saguache, Salida, Pagosa Springs, Creede, Grand Lake, Colorado Springs and many other small rural communities in Colorado that were in the same dire straits that Rio Blanco County now faces.
Even the Rio Blanco County Planning Commission Master Plan, (page 31) signed and approved by the commissioners, states that the county will preserve and protect the historic buildings and artifacts it owns. Do they just talk the talk and not walk the walk? Demolishing the historic school is hardly preserving and protecting the building.
Please join us and sign the Change.org petition to convey your feelings and support for saving historic buildings to those elected officials. See the website at: www.change.org/petitions/rio-blanco-county-colorado-board-of-commissioners-withdraw-plans-to-demolish-historic-elementary-school-to-build-a-jail#supporters
Share with your friends and Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter contacts and ask them to share with their contacts. The petition has already garnered signatures from all over the U.S. and even Canada.
Bob Amick
Meeker Community
Center Task Force