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Our View: FOCUS 2021: The Herald’s topics for in-depth editorial coverage this year

What do we want Durango to become? What can be done to make this beloved hometown and second home to many more livable, more sustainable, more friendly? Questions like that underpin the Herald’s decision to focus a significant amount of its 2021 commentary on topics that are of great interest to most of us.

A few weeks ago we asked readers to tell us what issues they think are most significant for the shaping of our city and region.

We appreciate the large number of responses we received; we took your ideas into account as we defined the four issues of FOCUS 2021.

It is our plan to look in depth at these issues over the course of the year, writing editorials and soliciting guest columns from experts on the challenges we face and their solutions.

Our colleagues at KSUT-FM/Four Corners Radio have agreed to collaborate with us in this endeavor. (More about that soon.)

We also plan to hold community meetings – this time on Zoom – so we can engage directly in discussions related to FOCUS 2021 topics. We’ll let you know on this page the dates and times of those meetings.

Here are the FOCUS 2021 topics we’ve chosen:

Beyond our means

Homelessness and the lack of affordable housing are two distinct challenges Durango faces, yet ones that are inextricably linked. Many readers agreed.

Robin Brodsky of Durango wrote, “There needs to be real discussion about homelessness and affordable housing. The locals who built the economy in La Plata County can no longer afford to actually live here. Economic marginalization here is real.”

We acknowledge that Durango’s elected officials, business leaders and nonprofits have worked hard on these issues, yet they remain at the heart of all our other challenges. For example, economic development is hardly possible if workers can’t afford housing.

We want to know what unexplored innovative ideas might help house more of our unsheltered neighbors, transition them into work and integrate them into the community. What new kinds of private-public partnerships might be forged to develop truly affordable housing, especially for young people who’d like to stay here and raise their families?

Doing Business Better

Ross Park of Durango wrote of his concerns for our economy, “The current attention to tourism is not sufficient to reach longer-term economic stability for our region. Recent economic losses (including declining gas revenues) continue to diminish our economic picture with few replacements. We must build and promote a sufficient infrastructure (high-speed internet, affordable housing, commercial monetary incentives, civic center facilities, adequate public transportation) to attract and retain new commerce in our region.”

Instead of flogging a dead horse – attempting to bring more traditional businesses to Durango – how do we effectively generate and incubate more small businesses, especially in the tech sector? Can we help our struggling restaurant businesses reinvent themselves? Can we add jobs to existing businesses?

Common Grounds

One thing we all share in common in Durango is our love for the environment.

Steve Ruddell is concerned about the risks to Durango’s primary source of drinking water within the Florida River watershed, and the health of the San Juan National Forest and risks of wildfire, including the Weminuche Wilderness.

David Ohman adds, “Durango needs to do a better job of regulating real estate development that demands more water than we may actually have for the long run.”

Citing vandalism at petroglyphs and overuse of trails and lakes, Gary Gackstatter, a summer visitor to Durango, wrote, “Much more needs to be done to raise the consciousness of how people use areas designated as wilderness or recreation areas, particularly the trails and areas around ancient sites.”

Numerous people simply wrote “climate change” as their choice for a primary FOCUS 2021 topic.

Healing the Rift

The ways in which we – Americans, Coloradans and Four Corners residents – are polarized are legion: by political parties, through structural racism and rural vs. urban differences. Locally, changing demographics, the influx of outsiders, the decline of agriculture and ranching, inequities in wealth distribution, and party politics have set people against people, effectively ending civil discourse and making acrimony and hostility the norm.

How do we get beyond these superficial expressions of our discontents to once again embrace the notion of “common good?” What are the dangers if we don’t find a new way to relate to one another?

Wendy Pollak was among those who expressed concern about “systemic racism and its historical contexts.”

Stephanie Moran suggested we need to “return to a thorough and essential teaching of civics and reading the basic historical documents of this country to come to a sensible consensus about our guiding principles.”

Werner Heiber said, “The question is, therefore, whether we are willing to accept that there is a ‘common good’ crisis, and are we equally willing to accept responsibility by addressing it?”

We look forward to a year of dissecting our challenges and finding possible solutions with you.