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How to save Salida

Letter from Jeff Donlan

Salida life – September 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine

How to save Salida


You printed a brief letter from a “Laird Campbell” last month, but I don’t think Laird exists. I think you invented him, or her, to ask this question and draw knee-jerk responses from readers like myself. Clever.

“Laird Campbell” hit the nail in the head, in a way. Encasing Salida in amber is its only hope. Towns like Salida are destined to be museums, if only because nobody builds towns like this anymore.

And people love them. That’s why they come here and walk around downtown.

They don’t come here to walk Oak Street to the highway. They won’t come here to walk the trail to Wal-Mart. The don’t come to walk, or otherwise transport themselves, to PiƱon Hills, Mesa Antero, or Blah Blah Blah Subdivision. They see places like these all the time.

So, what would I like to see for Salida? In no particular order, and with no concern for current political and legislative realities, or for your train of thought, I’d like to see…

All property within, or contiguous with, commercial downtown Salida be targeted for multiple use buildings — i.e., more of downtown. Let it grow a little. There must be ways to encourage its use and growth. Tax incentives, waived fees. Disincentives for vacant lots, incentives for second-story residential space.

Twenty-five-foot-wide building lots — smaller homes, smaller setbacks.

The point is to nurture the “quaint” features that make Salida so appealing — not for resale to tourists necessarily, though they’ll come, but because they also happen to make Salida very livable and nice.

Salida once decided against angled parking downtown.

Angled parking sounds better than it is, at least when added after the fact. It usually requires some sacrifice of the pedestrian way. We need more, not less, sidewalk. Why not narrow some downtown streets to one-way traffic and widen the sidewalks? Let businesses have awnings, tables and chairs, benches, planters that aren’t in the way? Downtown is nice because is accommodates people on foot — an antiquated notion, I know. Why not make it even better?

Merchants might tremble at the risk of angering more car people, theoretically sending them to the highway to shop, but consider that parking will remain the same, and one can parallel park to the left or the right. A new choice.

I’d like not to see the glare of exterior lights. I’d favor lighting laws such that the source of an exterior light (e.g. glowing filament or glowing ions) cannot be seen from off the property in question. Shields would be required.

No, Public Service apparently does not offer much help here. We tried to get a shield for the library’s PSCo exterior light a couple of years ago. They’re in the business of spreading electrons and photons wherever they can.

You can’t sell dark. (Well, actually you can. I’ve been to a gated community in the hills west of Denver. They have rules about exterior lighting. It’s all low and shielded, and it was the most pleasant thing to walk those streets at night. Plenty of light to see where you’re going, but no glare anywhere. But, it seems, you have to be rich to have dark.)

Public facilities could be held to some similar standard.

And, too, I’d rather not see the glare off metal roofs, either, which reflect more sunlight than glass.

I’d like to see more big trees.

How about a tithe from the increased tax revenues from the new, swollen Wal-Mart to be put toward the betterment of the city’s rare and beautiful feature — downtown. Then, a second tithe against the eventual disappearance of Wal-Mart tax revenues. Something will happen. The United States is full of the ghosts of discount chains, including Wal-Marts done in by their own.

I’d like to see something done to Highway 50: lighting and sign control, sidewalks, a gesture toward landscaping. Some sense that people, rather than their cars and wallets, matter as the hours of each day pass.

I could move on from Salida to the county, from small town life to rural life. But just as Salida struggles with what its version of small town life should be, so the county in general struggles with the notion of rural life. Rural life has already been traded for rural atmosphere, and that’s a slippery slope, indeed.

The world is smaller, and the rural landscape is smaller. I wish to quote a New York columnist named Ron Rosenbaum, who found himself increasingly irritated by faux folksiness, such as high-tech marketers saying, “Yes, folks, we’ve got just the thing for all your stuff,” when they’re selling hard drives. He said, “Maybe it’s the tiresome pretense that old-fashioned agrarian communal values can survive in soulless cyberspace technocracy.”

Hmm. Probably not agrarian, but perhaps small-town communal values can survive. Now … what are they?

Jeff Donlan Salida