The town of Walsenburg needs a story. Located in Central Colorado at the junction of Highway 160 and Interstate 25, it has long been just a place where you change travel direction.
Now, the townsfolk want to get some (or, more likely, a lot) of the current traffic that passes through...to stop. So, they’ve banded together (as this article points out) to change the exterior of the buildings to give them a more inviting feel. They’re focused on changing the appearance of the streetscape and storefronts to catch people’s eye, hoping that they’ll pull over for a closer look. Now, that’s a good first step. But, rarely does design alone, even if it’s quite remarkable, provide enough of an “experience” to get people to pay attention for long. And, some new stucco certainly won’t compel anyone to tell their friends how wonderful the town has become. People are looking for more than just a unique façade. They want something meaningful and different..something with a story. They want something that’s not only worth stopping for, but interesting enough to go out of the way for.
Cleaning up Walsenburg and giving it a facelift will definitely drive some incremental business and make it nicer for the folks that live there. But, the initial spike probably won’t last, and it certainly won’t result in a wholesale change in the economy. In order to make a long-term impact and change the economic landscape, they need to set their sites on and invest in the experience itself, not just the look, but the feel. They need to use the collective energy that’s now in motion to figure out what they can be the best and how to spread the word about it.
Here’s a place that’s way out of the way yet still managed to build quite a following over the years. I don’t think Joe Atkinson achieved that with a building.
Incidentally, my intention is not to single out Walsenburg. There are plenty of cities, big and small, who have done a lot worse in the area of “economic development”. At least the folks in this little town are trying to do something about it.