This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, September 7, 1994

September 7, 1994 - Mainstreet

"Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell." -- Edward Abbey.

My curse in life is that I can always see the other fellow's side. Maybe I was born that way. Or maybe I've watched too many episodes of Twilight Zone, followed by thousands of science fiction books.

But truly, I can imagine waking up tomorrow as almost anybody. Ralph Nader. Rush Limbaugh. A very old man or old woman. A child.

On the one hand, this is a relatively useful characteristic for a library director. You tell me what viewpoint you believe a library ought to express, and I'm in perfect sympathy. I see something in what you say, and think the library should have materials that express your viewpoint.

On the other hand, there are real dangers in some perspectives, and perhaps, in many of them.

In much the same way, Douglas County's growth is its gift and its curse. Every town was at some time nothing more than the vision of a developer: the idea that "if you build, they will come." Communities -- great cultures -- spring from such visions.

On the other hand, development is sometimes, and perhaps too often, characterized by wanton greed, a short-sighted focus on the quick return. Appalling cultural devastation is the result.

Take, for instance, the suburban cultural phenomenon of the "mall." On the one hand, the mall provides a gathering place, a new public plaza. It gives people jobs. This is where people go when they don't know where else to go. They see other people. They see (in various shops) the values of our culture.

On the other hand, the mall almost killed the old idea of "downtown" -- of a central area that defined the cultural heart and the economic engine of a community. The mall has proved to be a herald of cultural and economic fragmentation. In America, we are defined by our checkbook: we are what we buy.

Many, many factors contribute to the building of a successful community. It's more than houses, more than roads, more than schools, more than libraries, more than churches. It's more than grocery stores and recreation centers and restaurants and Chambers of Commerce. Successful communities have certain organizing principles, coherent themes.

As a small example of this, take the older neighborhoods whose look is defined by their front porches. The garages were somewhere around the back, often not even visible from the street. Today's houses are almost nothing BUT garage. These themes influence how people look at themselves and each other. It's the trip from "good to see you," to "we are driven."

In Douglas County, no one has yet established just what community does mean. The drama plays itself out in the tension between the Factory Outlet Mall and downtown Castle Rock. The struggle is clear in the fledgling westward extension of Parker's Mainstreet and the Town of Parker's attempt to forbid making a left turn from Parker's only downtown mall (Crossroads) to the eastern stretch of the street. In Highlands Ranch, talk has lately focused on "town centers," and what ought to be there.

In the absence of a guiding vision of a "successful community," we run the risk of developing our communities into places where no one would want to live.

It is my hope that the library will be one of the key players in the quest for intelligent development. Not only should we be at the heart of the community, we are also one of the few places where people can gather together information about other communities, other developments, other "organizing principles."

In today's complex social environment, there's more than one side to the story of growth. And if there's any thing libraries are good at, it's presenting all sides. I urge you to take advantage of us. Your future, and the culture in which your children will be raised, is at stake.

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