Imagine a Great ColoradoNews

PATTY LIMERICK | Forge new bonds between urban and rural Colorado

Author: Patty Limerick - July 31, 2018 - Updated: August 10, 2018

Patty Limerick

COMMENTARY: This is part of our series of contributed essays, “Imagine a Great Colorado.” See below for more.

“Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic,” William Jennings Bryan said in his famed “Cross of Gold” speech in 1896, “but destroy our farms, and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.”

This quotation, we cannot help noticing in the year 2018, is perfectly sized as a Tweet (186 characters, including spaces). And, in line with the temper of our times, it is also quite feisty in stance. Beginning a sentence with the four words, “burn down your cities,” Bryan made it clear that it was not his mission to negotiate a peace between urban communities and rural communities.

In the 1890s, the tensions between rural America and urban America reached one of their peaks. In the election of November 2016, according to many commentators and pundits, those tensions made another one of their episodic surges. That surge gives little sign of subsiding.

And so, when you take up an assignment to “imagine a greater Colorado,” you confront the priority of forging, deepening, and sustaining — a better relationship between the rural and urban sectors of this state.

Having arrived on the planet with a full-blown case of congenital cheerfulness, I believe we have the foundation in place to act on this priority. That foundation rests on the bedrock reality that many people move to — and stay in — the urban Front Range because of its proximity to the rural community of Colorado. They live and work in cities, and, following either a plan or an impulse, they can head for open spaces, where wide horizons will refresh their souls and restore their spirits.

Rural people will have noticed how the promise for familiarity and empathy dead-ends: Many residents of the urban Front Range are oblivious to their dependence on the enterprise, determination, hard work, tolerance, and good will of rural residents, in occupations ranging from farmer to ski-lift operator, from small-town restaurant owner to river guide, from rancher to hotel maid, and from fossil-fuel producer to solar-energy entrepreneur.

Over 40 longhorn cattle walk the streets of downtown Denver in January 2017 during the annual National Western Stock Show Parade. (Gazette)

So we have our marching orders, directing us toward the goal of “a greater Colorado.” It’s time for urban Coloradans to reckon, in daily life, with the fact their well-being rests on robust ties and alliances with rural Coloradans. It’s also time for rural Coloradans to pay attention to the benefits to be gained by inviting urban Coloradans into the arenas of small-town communities, and sharing the heritage of folklore and stories that could and should give grounding to all the state’s residents.

Many institutions are positioned to contribute to this cause. With its activities extended year-round, the National Western Stock Show represents an extraordinary opportunity. Many of the cultural institutions of the Denver metropolitan region are already playing a key role in hosting representatives and (one might even say) diplomatic missions from the rural parts of the state. And orchestrating a network of the state’s institutions of higher education, led by the community colleges and with a central role for the impressive Colorado Mountain College system, could build and maintain a sense of shared interests and enterprises.

And now for the under-utilized power-to-persuade carried by doggerel verse, where the exuberant and surging life force of the limerick overpowers the cramped and bitter plaint of the Tweet:

Rural and urban places

Are tangled together like laces.

They’re like sister and brother;

They depend on each other;

They have never been opposite cases.

More essays

> DAN NJEGOMIR | Imagine a great Colorado: 7 perspectives on how to lift up the state

> NEIL WESTERGAARD | To move forward, Colorado must move beyond tribal politics

> BARBARA O’BRIEN | Five goals for Colorado’s next governor

> MARK HILLMAN | Hold government accountable — and call off the culture wars

> LUCIA GUZMAN | Bridge the partisan divide to pursue our highest priorities

> ELLEN ROBERTS | Resource stewardship, fiscal prudence and independent thinking

> TOM NORTON | Build infrastructure for people, goods, information — and water

Patty Limerick

Patty Limerick

Patty Limerick is the faculty director and chair of the Board of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado, where she is also a professor of history. She was appointed Colorado state historian in 2016 and serves on the National Council on the Humanities, which is the advisory board to the National Endowment for the Humanities.