One topic I find most interesting is the politics of municipal boundaries. In Colorado, with cities relying on the almighty sales tax dollar as their main source of income, annexations usually occur not due to any logical basis in regional land use planning, but as a political tool to out-maneuver a neighboring city. In fact, the whole history of how cities come to be in general and how they grow spatially over time is fascinating to me (urban planning geek alert!).
One way to understand the nature of annexations and municipal geopolitics along the Front Range is to look at cities on maps in a different way. Most maps are cluttered with streets and labels and lines and dots and symbols of all types. By stripping away all those things and looking at just municipal territory, we can gain an interesting view of inter-municipal geopolitics.
I’ve prepared the following map by doing just that—showing nothing but just the municipalities of Colorado’s northern Front Range as spatial units (click and zoom to view at full size):
One of the things that immediately stands out to me is the recent territorial growth through annexation of cities in Weld and Larimer counties. They now all touch each other. What this map also shows is that one can now travel from northern Fort Collins to southern Parker (but not quite to Castle Rock) without ever leaving a municipality. That’s a distance of approximately 85 miles.
Now, just because an area is within the corporate limits of a city doesn’t mean it’s urbanized. In fact, particularly in the smaller towns along the I-25 corridor in Weld and Larimer counties, much of the municipal territory is still undeveloped. These areas have been annexed in anticipation of growth. The map clearly shows, however, the degree of jockeying for position taking place along the Front Range, the defensive maneuvers, the flagpole extensions to protect the flanks, the staking of claims at remote outposts to establish perimeters. It’s all about capturing those lucrative sales tax dollars that will surely come from all the shopping centers that will surely be built around the major interchanges.
From a planning and public policy perspective, the obvious question is: Is this any way to run a region? I think you know the answer to that. However, assuming that nothing changes and all this growth occurs in these locations anyway, at least the cities are doing the right thing by annexing these areas. Counties were not created to provide urban services, and providing urban services through a mish-mash of special districts is no way to build a community. Urban and suburban development belongs in cities. At least most of our Front Range cities seem to be getting that message.
But, notwithstanding all the insight about our urban growth and development policies that this map can provide, I also think it just looks really cool. Without cheating, how many of these cities can you name?