Brian Janonis is the not the kind of guy who sits around and chats. When I asked if I could talk with him about tomorrow he said, “Sure. The City Planning Department is having a citizen walk through the proposed development district north of downtown. Let’s do that.” So, after riding 70 miles I walked three more with Brian and fifteen other keen citizens of Fort Collins on a sweltering afternoon through streets that required a long view of tomorrow to envision as vibrant urban spaces. But Brian and our companions did not consider reimagining their city a matter of ‘if’, simply a question of ‘when’.
Brian is a native of New York who moved to Colorado and never looked back. He’s an engineer who worked for the City of Fort Collins, eventually becoming Director of Utilities. He loves technology, the west, and Fort Collins. He retired a few years ago, but is so involved with various civic projects he scoffed at the idea that he would relocate, or even travel at length beyond Fort Collins.
Brian is justifiably proud of Fort Collins’ many initiatives to become a more sustainable place. The city has its own utility company, and started a decentralized generation program that allows individuals to feed their unused solar power back into the grid, a common sticking point in making domestic solar feasible. The city also buys up property in the ever-expanding flood plain to create green/recreational areas; Fort Collins did not require federal assistance after last year’s devastating floods. The city has invested in alternative fuel vehicles, and is building a refueling station. This afternoon, we walked an underutilized industrial area north of downtown that borders the flood plain. The city envisions this as the logical extension of Fort Collins’ vital commercial core.
Brian attributes Fort Collins’ success in creating innovative programs to transparency. “Fort Collins has just as many ‘small government’ proponents as any Western town. But when you show people what we want to do, and why, and then do it well, they support improvements. The citizens trust us and pass our bond issues.” Today’s walk is one example of that transparency. Another is City Works 101, a six-week program that explains different aspects of city government to individuals who participate. “There’s a reason why Fort Collins is on the Smithsonian’s List of Innovative Cities.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“On another planet. We’ve got a long way to go before we can live in a sustainable way. We’re not going to last forever on this earth. Our goal has to be to prolong life on this planet as long as we can.”