Is Fort Collins witnessing its last hometown Mayor in action? This was the question on my mind following an insightful conversation I had with Mayor Wade Troxell for my most recent podcast this past week.
I’ve written at length on Fort Collins’ transitioning from town to metropolitan area. However, I haven’t spent much time considering the future impact this might have on the city natives serving as elected officials.
To be clear, longevity of residence isn’t a precursor to one’s ability to be an effective leader. In fact, too often length of residency is used as a justification by some to be dismissive of other community members input.
Yet, after talking with Mayor Troxell about his experiences growing up here under the tutelage of civic minded parents, it’s clear that having someone with direct institutional memory is invaluable for any governing body. Even more so given our afore mentioned metamorphosis from town to city.
While the value you place on this may vary from mine, it’s important to understand why Wade may very well be our community’s last hometown Mayor, and what it means for future governing practices.
First and foremost, the answer to why is that we are no longer a town, and there’s a shallow pool of longstanding natives willing to serve. Secondarily, while there are many like myself who identify with our city, it just isn’t the same type of connectivity you get from being a part of a smaller town, which has both positive and negative aspects.
It’s less than surprising that the other factors for Mayor Troxell likely being the last of a dying breed are the same as those changing our overall community culture. We’re undergoing a variety of demographic shifts, grappling with questions of affordability/livability, and experiencing growing political polarization that breeds contempt, or even worse disinterest.
Demographically, we’re seeing fewer natives and on the cusp of a major generational shift that’s going to challenge our city governance structure. Additionally, current income trends seem to forecast a city consisting of two distinct demographics, with fewer in between.
Economics may serve to hasten the loss of natives eligible for election, and accentuates the impact affordability/livability will have on future natives being elected. As our city slides further down the housing affordability list, currently we’re in the bottom 100 globally, and overall living costs accelerate, the less likely it is that our children will live here.
I’ll let the political polarization component speak for itself, or maybe save that for another day and column.
Ironically given Mayor Troxell’s story, a final wild card impacting the potential for native candidates is the changing college landscape. The transient and global nature of today’s kids mean they are less likely to go to the home town colleges. So those born here are far more likely to spend at least a few years elsewhere.
Ultimately this means city governance will be different, which isn’t inherently good or bad. However, I believe the role of city staff, citizen involvement, and protecting against dogmatic political divisions will take on much greater importance.
It’s not a certainty that we’re witnessing our last native Mayor, but that potential serves as a reminder to take a moment to appreciate all Fort Collins was, is, and is yet to become.