City Snapshot: Colorado Springs

Located about an hour south of Denver, and at an elevation of about 6,000 feet above sea level, Colorado Springs is mountainous Colorado’s second largest city. Its population of more than 478,000 people is approximately 69 percent white, 6.5 percent Black, and 18 percent Latino. By many standards, it is a conservative-leaning city: its mayor, John Suthers is Republican, and served as United States Attorney for the District of Colorado under George W. Bush, and Colorado Attorney General before becoming mayor. Though Colorado was one of the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, it remains illegal in Colorado Springs. And like fellow military hub Killeen, Texas, it is also one of the most integrated cities in the US.

The US military was desegregated by President Harry Truman by an 1948 Executive Order. Since then, the military has had an interestingly positive relationship to residential integration. Almost 1 in 5 Black workers are employed by the public sector, such as the postal service or military. Black Americans make up 17 percent of the military compared to only 14 percent of the general US population; both the military and the general US population are about 18 percent Latino. The military is one of the only sectors of employment in which these groups aren’t underrepresented, allowing for significant social contact between racial groups.

And there is evidence of positive long-term outcomes of these interactions: White military veterans are more likely to live in diverse neighborhoods than their civilian counterparts. In Colorado Springs, the military plays a large role in the economy and housing. The largest employer in the city is US Army base Fort Carlson, but Colorado Springs is also home to a US Air Force Academy, Fort Peterson Air Force Base (AFB), and the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD). Together, the military employs 20 percent of Colorado Springs’ workforce. Military benefits include paid housing allowances and mortgage loans without down payments, which circumvent significant barriers to home ownership. 

In a sprawling city like Colorado Springs, this contribution cannot be underestimated. In most of the US, high rates of single-family zoning is associated with lower racial diversity and higher segregation. However, Colorado Springs is integrated despite the fact that 83 percent of its residential land use is zoned for single-family-only housing. Though the housing market in Colorado Springs has quickly lost its status as an affordable housing market, its metro area has one of the smallest homeownership gaps between Black and white residents in all of the US. Now, Colorado Springs officials are grappling with how to maintain their housing market successes. The city is growing quickly, and increasing costs have alarmed many residents.

Recently there have been calls for changes to zoning ordinances to allow for more housing, and for denser housing to keep up with demand. But Colorado Springs is facing a barrier that many other cities have also encountered: “NIMBYism.” Though local and national studies have found no evidence of property values decreasing because of proximity to affordable housing, local officials have received some “Not In My Backyard” pushback from some. “The answer to fighting NIMBYism is to be that other voice and bring as many people to the table who want to see more equitable development,” says local housing advocate, Liam Reynolds. Such equitable development might be key to keeping Colorado Springs’ status as an integrated city.