Your Voice: Results of the First “Your Front Row Seat” Reader Survey

Since I started “Your Front Row Seat” in summer 2016, it’s been both gratifying and inspiring to see the level of interest in the local issues presented. I’ve also been deeply appreciative of the enthusiastic response. It’s evident that we, as Durango residents, all sincerely care about protecting and further developing the high quality of life we enjoy in our great city.

To gain a better understanding of how Durango “quality of life” is defined on the broader scale, and to understand the challenges facing it, I sent an open-ended, two-question survey to a cross-section of the “Your Front Row Seat” readers.

It’s important to me that we not only have an open discussion around which issues we prioritize as a community, but that we also all have a voice and a role in creating solutions. While no single person’s priorities and preferences will take precedence all the time, our community and democracy will always be stronger if we understand the position of our neighbors and work together toward the future.  

In this initial survey, I wanted to hear from you about growth in Durango. Specifically, what challenges are arising from Durango’s continued growth, and how should we address them. This was by no means a scientific survey. Questions were sent to 30 people randomly selected from my subscriber list. People responded with lengthy, informative and interesting input so I decided to share the results on my blog site.

Thank you to those of you who responded. I encourage everyone to continue the conversation in the comments section.

This is what you and your neighbors had to say.

Question #1: What are the top challenges facing Durango as it continues to grow?

Responses are aggregated when multiple respondents had similar sentiments. The four most commonly stated obstacles, in no particular order, were:

  1. Traffic
  2. Loss of tax revenue from oil and gas extraction fees, which puts a much greater burden on home and business owners for funding infrastructure maintenance and improvements
  3. Homeless/panhandling issues affecting local businesses, residents and tourism.
  4. Inappropriate development.

Other challenges surrounding the topic of growth, as noted by respondents:

  • Lack of a fair and just operational code to protect renters. Some respondents suggested the city has a longstanding reputation for uneven enforcement of code, and that many residents pay high rents for unsafe housing.
  • Seasonal economic imbalance causing economic peaks and valleys. Shoulder seasons, when tourism is not as strong, are killers for small businesses.
  • Reliance on the summertime discretionary leisure tourist, with no concerted effort to attract more “purposeful” travelers, such as: business travelers, non-local concert goers, non-local theater patrons, conference attendees, sports tournament participants, etc. Developing additional market draws would require building appropriate facilities, such as a convention center, for example.
  • Lack of vision and leadership. Public and private sectors currently operate as self-serving units with no one coordinating a strategic economic growth plan.
  • Elected officials who “don’t have experience signing the front of a check.” This observation was made in reference to elected officials making business policies, despite having no personal experience running a business.
  • The city continues to invest in expensive amenities while disregarding basic infrastructure maintenance needs.
  • Lack of efficient and economically sustainable public transportation.
  • Division between those who have high income and those who continuously struggle.
  • The city’s failure to move the sewage treatment plant out of the center of town.
  • Roads, water, sewer, etc. are ignored in the planning process until they become expensive emergencies.

Question #2  What are the solutions you’d like to see implemented to combat the obstacles Durango faces?

Unlike question one, where a clear majority identified the top four challenges Durango faces as it grows, solution-based responses were more widespread. As such, these are direct responses (edited for brevity and clarity) from respondents. Though some ideas were proposed by more than one respondent, there was not a clear consensus. Note: Responses are loosely-grouped by topic and may apply to more than one obstacle or issue.

Traffic-related Solutions

  • Invest in non-automobile-related commuting options, and a better fee-based public transportation system.
  • Impose higher property taxes to meet infrastructure needs.

Loss of Oil and Gas Revenue Solutions

  • Diversify our economy and encourage other businesses, including businesses unrelated to tourism, to locate here. Otherwise, we will just be left with hotels and restaurants.
  • Explore creative funding strategies to finance goals.
  • Better local economic leadership is needed. “We’re isolated and we’re lazy. No one is chasing us, and we have no models of success to aspire to. We’ve become comfortable reading our own press releases, comparing ourselves to ourselves, and patting each other on the back. We need to learn from other communities that are taking bold directions.”
  • The health of public lands is paramount to attracting visitors and residents who support our economy. Maintain strong collaboration between nonprofits, private enterprise, city, county, state and federal governance, and agencies to ensure long-term health of the public lands that we all enjoy.

Homeless/Panhandling-related Solutions

  • Take a tougher stance with panhandler/substance-abusing/lifestyle-based vagrants.
  • Increase police presence on the streets after 7 p.m. Enforce no public smoking of marijuana outside of bars.

Development Solutions

  • Explore options to extend sewer and water to areas near Bodo, where future growth can more easily be accommodated.
  • Streamline city and county planning processes with less regulation.
  • City Council should aim to evaluate and streamline current planning and development processes, with the first step being a review of all planning approvals and withdrawn applications.
  • Work with the new owner of Ewing Mesa to see if some of that area can be utilized for residential development.


  • Hold absentee landlords accountable for code infractions, and turn repeat violations/penalties into a source of revenue so the city can afford to fix what’s broken. The city penalizes parking infractions, so why not do the same to those who won’t mow lawns, control weeds or comply with density/habitability requirements.
  • Encourage a larger, trained workforce, with more skilled workers in the trades, HVAC, welders, plumbers etc.
  • Make the subject of “economic balance” part of the public conversation, with the intention of creating goals and assigning tasks and timelines.
  • Maintain a strong school board and encourage parent involvement at all levels.
  • The health of public lands is paramount to attracting visitors and residents who support our economy. Maintain strong collaboration between nonprofits, private enterprise, city, county, state and federal governance, and agencies to ensure long-term health of the public lands that we all enjoy.
  • Support strong interactions between the city and Fort Lewis College. One reason Durango attracts new residents is that we have a high quality college in town. Conversely, the quality of FLC is dependent on the quality of life in Durango. Therefore, strong interactions between city and college administrations must remain strong.
  • Be conscientious in our use of water, including our overuse of concrete and asphalt, which create toxic water slides instead of allowing it to be absorbed and stored by the ground, trees and plants.
  • Limited resources require tight focus and increased collaboration.

From this growth-oriented survey, it’s clear that the people who live and work and play in Durango are passionate about the place we all call home. From this limited sampling, there is a noteworthy consensus about the challenges we face together, and a worthy insight into challenges that are brewing and will demand our attention in the near future.

Though the proposed solutions don’t deliver a clear mandate, there is still much to be learned and considered from the thoughtful and firm responses. The intent of this survey was to listen to what Durango residents have to say and to provide an outlet to continue the conversation. Please share your observations and thoughts in the comments section. I thank you all for taking the time to contribute.


One Comment

  • Dave McHenry

    Wow, thanks Melissa! A lot of what I read here sounds like it fits right into my Durango City Council campaign platform Back to Basics – Let’s Do the Simple Things Right!
    Nice to know that there are other like-minded individuals in our community 🙂 and you do an outstanding job analyzing these complex local issues.
    Dave McHenry

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