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Tusinski: Developing Hughes would be a huge mistake

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(Graphic illustration by Allie Watkinson | The Collegian)

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board. 

I wrote an article last week about how Colorado is becoming overcrowded, polluted and gentrified. In that article, I mentioned that Colorado State University wants to develop its vacant plot of land that used to house Hughes Stadium into an affordable apartment complex. I said that developing Hughes could be detrimental to the Fort Collins community in a number of ways, and I stand by that claim.

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Before I begin, let me say that I fully support building more affordable housing in Fort Collins. Colorado is experiencing a housing crisis. While Fort Collins is a city that surprisingly didn’t experience some kind of housing crisis during the pandemic, the City has all the hallmarks of gentrification — which will push out low income communities and people of color. Providing more affordable housing is, to some extent, a Band-Aid on the problem, which I support.

What I don’t support is putting even more stress on Colorado’s already delicate ecosystems, which is exactly what developing new houses in Fort Collins will do.

If you care about the environment you have to understand that there is no such thing as truly ‘sustainable’ development.”

Real estate developments like this are pushing Colorado’s ecosystems, particularly in the mountains, closer and closer to the brink of collapse. One housing development obviously won’t create many tangible effects on the environment. It won’t singlehandedly topple Colorado’s ecosystems or speedily advance climate change — it will add on to the larger issues that overdevelopment is causing.

Our growing population and the infrastructure we’re building to sustain it is degrading forests, polluting the skies and filling the air with greenhouse gasses. Do we really need to add on to all that with yet another housing project?

If you care about the environment, understand that there is no such thing as truly “sustainable” development. Every new housing project, every new road and every new apartment complex all have environmental ripple effects that affect the entire environment around them. They can be more sustainable than other developments, which the proposed Hughes project is, but they will still be inherently negative. Building roads, houses and developments will still displace wildlife and create pollution, no matter how many solar panels you slap on them.

My colleague Cody Cooke brought up the Karuk Tribe in Northern California, specifically their practice of controlled burns to regulate the environment around them, and he argues that the Hughes development is akin to these controlled burns. What he didn’t note, though, is that controlled burns are meant to regrow ecosystems. They’re temporary and are meant to clear old trees before healing their own scars and allowing for new growth.

Redeveloping Hughes is not temporary nor is it meant to reinvigorate the ecosystems along the front range. It doesn’t allow for any metaphorical new trees to grow. It clears them out once and for all and claims to be sustainable while doing so.

Cooke also said I claim that “every human impact to the environment is detrimental and therefore … should be stopped.” I want to be clear that this isn’t what I’m saying. What I am saying is that we should be smart in where we develop our land. We can do this in ways that won’t put stress on our ecosystems.

We’re not the first city to have gone through this crisis. Boulder, Colorado, has been dealing with the same environmental problem we have been for decades, and they came up with a great way to protect the environment while still providing affordable housing.

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The city bought plots of land that collectively created a ring of open space around it, which acted to keep developments within that set amount of land. At the same time, the City of Lafayette and Boulder County purchased their own land, which they preemptively built affordable housing on.

Fort Collins should follow Boulder’s lead instead of building expensive new developments that only add to urban sprawl and rising housing costs that push out low income communities. Let the City maintain control of the Hughes land and have it act as a first step in creating a wall of open space.

There are smarter ways to go about this. Let’s push our government to create concrete policy to stop rising housing costs. Let’s develop land that isn’t as delicate, like the eastern plains. Let’s revitalize already-developed land in Fort Collins for affordable housing. We don’t need to open the gates for even more pollution and gentrification in our city.

Dylan Tusinski can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @unwashedtiedye.

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