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What Does Being A 'Place Of Invention' Mean For Fort Collins' Future?

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Fort Collins Old Town Square Restoration
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Fort Collins' Old Town Plaza last saw a face lift in the 1980s, when this picture was taken.

Fort Collins is no stranger to “best of” lists, with national recognition for everything from happiest residents to most entrepreneurial businesses to fittest citizens. The latest feather for the community’s cap comes from the Smithsonian, which dubbed the city a “Place of Invention.

The Lemelson Center exhibit in D.C. mostly focuses on examples of regions that have seen rapid innovation for a specific period of time. Smithsonian historian Joyce Bedi, who curated the Fort Collins portion of the exhibit acknowledges that it’s difficult to sustain a quick pace of invention and innovation for decades on end.

“There’s no recipe for continued success, so I can’t predict what Fort Collins is going to be in 20 years,” Bedi says. “I have an instinct, a feeling, that it’s going to be thriving. But I don’t have a crystal ball, and I can’t say.”

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Credit Courtesy Wade Troxell
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Wade Troxell is Fort Collins' mayor.

The city’s mayor, Wade Troxell, is in a unique position to talk about the realities of being a place of invention, and the potential downsides to the recognition. Troxell has worked as a professor at CSU, an entrepreneur, and is a lifelong Fort Collins resident.

As Fort Collins continues to land on lists of best places to live, or wind up in a Smithsonian exhibit, it is drawing more residents. Growing pains are inevitable. Troxell says developers are rushing to make space for all the new folks, but affordable housing is a challenge.

On Affordable Housing

“That’s where I think you don’t you don’t run and ride from it but you address it straight up in terms of the values you’re trying to maintain. Well I think it’s a supply demand. Some of our inflation is due to regulatory policies that the city has that takes bedrooms out of play. So I think there’s a lot of things.”

On Expensive Water

“We have to think of these things holistically and think of these things in terms of what are root causes and not think that some of these issues are a bumper sticker and think that by doing one thing you’re going to solve the problem.”

On Limits To Growth

“We’ve done that analysis. A build out analysis to 250,000 people. We’ve had land use planning. One of the reasons people like the look and feel of Fort Collins is because it has had a lot of urban planning and land use planning. And so what that means is it’s not to stop growth, it’s really, we’ve planned for the growth and what it's going to be and where it’s going to be and what needs to be next to what.”

On The City’s Adaptive Culture

“People are very open. And that’s part of the ecosystem is to make it a richer place -- not richer in terms of dollars -- but richer in terms of engagement around innovation. And that becomes an enabler for good things to happen.”

As KUNC’s managing editor and reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I edit and produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.
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