I have never met anyone that told me they hated Fort Collins. Not everyone knows a lot about the town. But of the people who have been there or lived there, I have yet to hear a single overwhelmingly negative impression, the way I have about so many other towns.
Colorado is a state that is very divided both politically and culturally. The political divide is close to even, thus Colorado’s status as a “swing state”. Representing the extremes of the spectrum, Boulder and Colorado Springs are both very polarizing. Many people hate one or both of these towns simply due to what they represent politically. Not only do Fort Collins and Laramier County sit generally near the middle of the spectrum politically, but they are also not known for being particularly politically active the way Boulder and Colorado Springs are.
Other towns are polarizing or controversial for other reasons. The casino town of Blackhawk not only leaves a bad impression on those that do not approve of gambling, but also ignited the ire of the bicycling community when it chose to ban bicycles from the entire town in 2010 (this ban was overturned by the State Supreme Court). I have to admit that as much as I love Vail and Vail ski resort, I am quite disturbed by the town’s decision to close down the only affordable hotel in town to make way for a new extended stay hotel, which will most definitely be fancier and pricier. Large towns like New York are loved by many, but also hated by many who resent the level of stress they cause, the amount of power they wield, and the amount of attention they receive.
The sun shined bright and the temperatures were quite pleasant this January day. It was the kind of day when you can really notice the character of a city. On a cold or rainy day, it may be hard to feel the true energy of a town, as it is often subdued by such conditions. Walking around Fort Collins’ central area today, the true energy of the city was on full display.
Over the past decade or so I have become quite accustomed to living in vibrant places like this, where people can be found walking around, conversing, conducting business, and going about their days. It feel like home, and it feels like the way our society was meant to operate. If I were to find myself living in a town without this type of energy, it would definitely feel like something is missing. However, that is just a personal preference. I am sure a lot of people live satisfying, fulfilling lives in sprawled out suburbs, or even decaying towns with a lot of abandoned storefronts. They probably do not share my addiction to the energy. If anything, they are in a better situation than I am, as their choices of places they could live and thrive are much less limited than mine.
Like Boulder, Fort Collins has a pedestrian mall with a lot of random street performers, particularly on a nice day like today. The street performances here seem more varied than the ones in the average American city. I saw the standard guitar performer, but there is also an outdoor public piano, and many more random acts like dance routines and hula-hoppers. This pedestrian mall, called “Old Town Fort Collins” is significantly shorter than Boulder’s Pearle Street, but is still large enough and offers enough variety for it to be considered interesting.
Walking around here made me realize what makes Fort Collins special. Not only is it not controversial, the way many other places are, but it still manages to be interesting and unique. In actuality, there are plenty of places that do not ignite strong negative feelings. When was the last time anyone fumed at the arrogance of Grand Island, Nebraska? Or the rude partisans of Peoria, Illinois? What sets Fort Collins apart is that it is still a fun and unique place to live, while also remaining non-controversial.
As a town along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, many outdoor activities can be found right outside of town, the same way such activities can be found in any of the towns that line the front range from Fort Collins south to Colorado Springs.
Fort Collins may be best known as the headquarters of New Belgium Brewing, known for it’s signature beer fat tire. New Belgium employs a unique business model, and has been quite successful. At New Belgium, every employee is a part owner of the company. The benefits and beer are great as well, and they are also known for their support of bicycling as a form of transportation. While I did not visit New Belgium on this particular trip, the values of this company appear to be reflected throughout the town.
Fort Collins has one of the best networks of bike lanes and trails in the United States. Even in this well-to-do neighborhood just west of downtown, a wide bike lane can be found.
Fort Collins is the northernmost town along Colorado’s front range. To the south is a series of population centers that include Colorado’s largest; Denver and Colorado Springs. To the north, it is quite empty. Fort Collins is on the edge of our society. It manages to be an interesting and vibrant place without the controversy and/or polarization that often accompanies this. Big enough to feel energetic, but small enough not to be overwhelming to many, Fort Collins is truly a unique place worth checking out.