I was hoping to write today about the City’s “Strategic Outcomes” (which are a key means of determining how money is spent by the City of Fort Collins government) with the goal of showing how historic preservation fits in in more ways than you might imagine. But as I read City documents on these strategic outcomes, I feel like Alice in Wonderland who has fallen down a hole and is only beginning to realize that things are not all as they seem. So instead I’m going to bite off just one little chunk of the Outcomes that I’ve been thinking on a lot lately anyway, and I’ll save the rest for a later date (after I’ve had a chance to consult with the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat).

One of the phrases that pops up in the Strategic Outcomes docs a few times is “Sense of Place.” It can be found under community and neighborhood livability, economic health, and transportation (which is 3 of the 7 main outcomes).

What I wonder, though, is whether my idea of Fort Collins’ Sense of Place matches your idea of Fort Collins’ sense of place. Is there a cohesive sense of place that we can all agree on? And if so, what does that look/feel like?

One page from the Fort Collins 2015-2016 Strategic Plan.

One page from the Fort Collins 2015-2016 Strategic Plan.

As I read through the Fort Collins 2015-2016 Strategic Plan, I came across this picture of two bicyclists riding in front of the Linden Hotel surrounded by trees and flowers. It’s a photo that I see used almost every time Fort Collins hits another “Best of” list. (The image is apparently owned by the City and was taken in July 2008. It’s available on Wikipedia under a shared license, which could be one reason why it’s used so frequently. It’s legal to grab and use the photo as long as you don’t claim ownership of the image.)

In looking at the picture, I think it captures some of that sense of place that the City wants to build on. There’s lots of greenery. Even though this picture was taken in the middle of commercial downtown, there’s so many plants that it almost looks like these cyclists are traveling through botanical gardens of some sort. And those bicyclists…. In a city where people think nothing of getting up at O’Dark Hundred to head up into the hills to ski or hike or hunt, there’s definitely a sense that Fort Collins is a place of activity — clearly captured by the cycling couple. And the historic building in back speaks to Fort Collins historic district in Old Town, which draws tourists from around the world.

The Kissock Block on East Mountain Avenue.

The Kissock Block on East Mountain Avenue.

I recently attended a talk in Denver that touched on the topic of “Place.” In a discussion of what makes Denver Denver, brick buildings came up as a reoccurring theme. (Apparently there was even a law at one point requiring new buildings to be built in brick in order to stick with the brick theme that was prevalent in the city.) The speaker included photos of brick buildings from all eras and styles throughout the city of Denver. It made me wonder if the same was true here in Fort Collins. When you think of Fort Collins buildings, do you think brick? And if not, then what DO you think?

3665 John F Kennedy Parkway. The building is predominantly made up of brick with long ribbons of windows.

3665 John F Kennedy Parkway. The building is predominantly made up of brick with long ribbons of windows.

3711 John F Kennedy Parkway. The coloring makes you think "brick" but the building appears to be mostly stucco and glass.

3711 John F Kennedy Parkway. The coloring makes you think “brick” but the building appears to be mostly stucco and glass.

3600 S. College. Though the building is clad in stucco and stone, it's the green metal roof that really catches a person's attention.

3600 S. College. Though the building is clad in stucco and stone, it’s the green metal roof that really catches a person’s attention.

This wood plank building was torn down during the reconstruction of the mall. It used to straddle the irrigation ditch that also used to run through this area.

This wood plank building was torn down during the reconstruction of the mall. It used to straddle the irrigation ditch that also used to run through this area.

Parklane Towers -- cement structures with some brick along the sides.

Parklane Towers. These buildings are predominantly cement structures with brick cladding.

I think it’s fair to say that proximity to nature is a defining characteristic of Fort Collins (and surrounding communities). I’d include the abundance of trees throughout town as well. Active lifestyles (and the amenities that accompany those lifestyles such as bike lanes, parks with exercise equipment, etc.) also appears to be a reoccurring theme throughout our community. And, of course, Fort Collins’ wide streets are so utterly different than what most communities have that we should include that as well as a defining characteristic. The fact that we’re a college town also plays into how the community feels overall.

What else do you think is indicative of Fort Collins? Do we have building materials that are prevalent? What about the size or shape of buildings? Is there something about the layout of the town that’s defining?

When you come back from a long trip, what is it that you see that makes you exhale long and slow and know, finally, that you’re home?