A month after the Columbine tragedy in Littleton, Colorado, I was invited to address 300 civic leaders in Denver on how they could mark the millennium. Here is the speech I gave, a good illustration of the kind of work I did with cities from 1998 to 2000 as a millennial consultant.
I BRING YOU GREETINGS THIS MORNING FROM THE PIKES PEAK Region where I have been involved to help launch Springs 2000. It began last fall when the City of Colorado Springs and the El Paso County Commissioners declared the time between now and 2001 as the official “Pikes Peak Millennial Season.” By January, Mayor Makepeace convened the first meeting of the Springs 2000 Commission, a blue-ribbon group of some 100 civic leaders have been meeting every month to consider how to “Mark the Millennium.” The “Springs 2000″ logo is an abstract depiction of Pikes Peak in purple, formed with two stylized “M’s,” the notion in Roman numerals for the year 2000. Our focus in 1999 is on preparation with the year 2000 devoted to commemorations. Although the Springs 2000 Commission will not be releasing an official calendar for 2000 until early fall, based on the initial Call for Proposals received, it looks like we will mark the millennium with some 200 official events and projects. Some are as small and symbolic as renaming our east /west bind trail, “The America the Beautiful” trail. Others are as large as spending $11 million to create a premier river walk park at our confluence, tentatively named “Confluence Park.”
Great Cities Do Great Things
It is entirely appropriate that we should be meeting in Denver today, with the turn of the century in mind to talk about cultural tourism. For the past 700 years, great cities have done great things to renew and rebuild themselves at century’s end. Rome practically invented tourism in the year 1300 when the pope declared a Year of Holy Jubilee. From all over Europe pilgrims streamed to into Rome, eyewitnesses say “upwards of 100,000 a day” to spiritually experience the start of a New Century.
Perhaps the most famous landmark of a city declaring itself ready for a new century is the thousand-foot-high tower of iron, the Eiffel Tower. First built as a temporary tower for the centennial exposition of 1889, it became a permanent icon of architecture in 1900 marking Paris as the City of Lights. Atop the observation tower, citizens of Paris gained their first modern look at the skyline, and were inspired by the Spirit of 1900.
Now we come to the year 2000, this magnet hung in time, this annus mirabulus, as our grandparents saw it 100 years ago. As people prepared to celebrate the turn of the century in America, the most popular book of the day was a novel about life in year 2000. Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backwards: 2000 – 1887 sold more than ten million copies, rivaling Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben Hur on American cultural history. This last great utopian novel told the story of Julian West, who fell asleep in Boston in 1887, only to wake up in the year 2000 to discover a near perfect world.
The Millennial Tour
Now let’s take the millennial tour.
— Ten years after reunification, Hannover, Germany is looking to make its mark on trade, by showcasing EXPO 2000, the world’s fair for 40 million people, June 1st – Oct 1st. Sydney.
— Australia will shine in sports as it hosts the Summer Olympics in September 2000 for 10 million visitors.
— Rome, the eternal city is welcoming 20 million pilgrims for a Vatican Holy Year.
— And London is putting a billion dollars into a Millennium Dome & expedition at Greenwich to celebrate where time begins for a whole 12 months.
Having dreamed about 2000 a hundred years ago, is the millennium passing us by in America? Compared to Europe, the year 2000 has practically been lost in the shuffle of America’s young cities. Seeing the heights to which cities are going to win tourists and global recognition for the millennium in Europe and Asia–almost makes me as an American feel small. It’s like what the one cow said to the other after seeing a milk truck zip by on the highway, emblazoned with the words, “Homogenized, Pasteurized, Vitamin Fortified Milk.” She wagged her head and told her grazing partner, “Kinda makes you feel inadequate, doesn’t it!” Utterly inadequate!
I know a lot of effort in this city has been put into landing the Democratic National Convention for 2000, but Los Angeles got the final nod from the DNC. We shouldn’t feel too bad–we still have the World Champion Broncos, and the prospects of a historic three-peat in Super Bowl 2000! But has the millennium train passed us by? I don’t think so. I am here this morning to tell all of Denver that it is not too late to mark the Millennium in Denver in a world class way as a world class city. It may not be with an Eiffel Tower, but with something that has the potential to reach even higher. The idea that the planners of this forum have asked me to introduce is the: Since 1995 I have been working as “The Millennium Doctor” to help teams make the millennium in their city–make it meaningful and make it memorable. Rather than focus on millennium hype or hysteria, my vocation is to offer a prescription of hope. Each month I edit the premier trend letter on the millennium called “Lets’ Talk 2000″ at http://www.jaygary.com/talk2000
I can say with authority, that there is no prepacked way that cities mark the millennium. There is no kit for millennium makers. And there is no spare Peter Uberoths or Billy Paynes hanging around waiting for a call from the Mayor. And if they were, they probably wouldn’t know where to start, because our world has never celebrated the turn of a century, much less the turn of a millennium together. In fact the millennium is not something that your city is going to plan for you, as if all you need is fireworks on New Year’s Eve.
The Denver millennium is something which the Denver community is going to plan for itself in 1999 and mark in 2000. That is what great cities do as they cross centuries, they take stock of who they are in light the possibility of all that they can become. Great cities call on their citizens to form great groups to do great things! That is not to much to ask of World Champions!
Rx for Denver
That means in 2000, if not just the Broncos, but you all are going to go for the Gold, you will need a prescription of hope. Here it is: You got to dig down deep, in order to reach higher. It will take all of our best, and more to create the Mile High Millennium. Some of the groups here today will have to step up to another notch and go the extra mile to make this a true “Mile-lennium.” The Mile High Millennium is not just about being millennium compliant as a city. Yes, we are concerned about computers and technology and working hard to beat the millennium bug, but the Millennium is more than that. The Mile High Millennium is not just about millennium celebrations. It may involve planning hundreds of New Year’s Eve parties, but this is much more than one night. The Mile High Millennium is about using the time between now and 2001 to create millennium community. It is about making connections and weaving new “Webbs”. It is about being ready to enter the new century together.
I don’t often come to Denver so early in the morning. But the other day I was walking by the Convention Center and heard bells ringing. In light of the tragedy in Littleton, my first thought was that those bells were church bells. But immediately, I heard a train whistle. Yes, it was the Ride. Your great Mayor has just been re-elected for a new term under the ticket of public safety, keeping kids in school, bolstering parks and creating new economic opportunity. Despite the Columbine tragedy, Denver is on the right track. You only need to blow the whistle, and call everyone to get on board, because the 21st century express is leaving the station. And this train is bound for glory. So we begin today in Denver to make the millennium. In all of our brainstorming, in all of our panning for gold, we are here today to find some nuggets. And we are here today to begin a journey together as a city into all of our tomorrows.
Let’s talk about our journey into becoming a Millennium Community. We are entering a special time, which can be thought of as a milestone moment, a millennium moment, 1999 to 2001. In 1997, President and Mrs. Clinton, created the White House Millennium Council to encourage communities to mark the millennium, to “Honor the past, imagine the future.” The millennium experience is a journey through time. It takes the work of cultural managers, not just party planners to help us all look back to 1900, and look out to 2100. Great cities use turning points like this for retrospect and prospect. As pilgrim communities they rest along the road and tend to their sore feet. And while doing so they share their memories along the road so traveled, and they shape their dream for next day. They take stock of where they have been the last century and recommit themselves for the journey ahead. They rebuild and renew.
The Turn of the Millennium
The journey before us will not be easy. It will not be easy to stay focused for the marathon. Here is what the millennium looks like to most people in urban centers right now. This is the turn of the millennium, allright, but rather than a celebration of the city, it has become Topsy Turvy day, lead by a veritable king of fools. Listen to this quote from a full-page ad from PC World, May ’99. In the summer of 1999 The Theory of Evolution will be rewritten. The laws of nature will be broken. The definition of matter will be forever altered. The restrictions of gravity will be lifted. And time will no longer move in one direction. There is only one question. Are You Ready? That statement was part of a multi-page, full-color ad for Universal Studio Theme Park in Florida. As a great city, Denver can do better than this. It is not to late to make your mark on the millennium for America. But to have more than just a Mickey Mouse Millennium in Denver, you will have to help people appreciate where they are at right now and help them discover what they can be.
The Official Millennium Survey
Here is what the Official Millennium Survey conducted in ’98 and confirmed this past January says “The millennium is looming increasingly large in the public consciousness.” The study shows that more than three quarters of the people surveyed (78%) have a very positive outlook on the millennium with 28% already viewing it as a meaningful historical event. And most people’s plans for celebrating the millennium are not yet defined, with only about 1/3 of adults and older teens reporting they are already thinking that far ahead. The study goes on to say, “People feel privileged to witness the millennium. They want to be able to tell their grandchildren about what happened and what they did.” “There is a growing sense the millennium will be a profound milestone in people’s lives, an opportunity to stop and start anew,” says Mitten, President of the Billennium Organizing Committee.
The heart of the study identified seven segments of consumer behavior, each with a distinctive perspective on what the millennium means to them and how to celebrate it. Fourof these seven segments include the Self Improvers, Global Intenders, Worry Warts or Hype Haters. It concludes: “Millennium fever is about to burst forth with a force that is likely to shake even the most seasoned observers of the human behavior… It (the millennium) is extremely complicated. By looking at people’s attitudes, we get deeper insight as to what their real interest in the millennium is.”
The Millennial Maze
I capsulize this in what I call the Millennial Maze, with four corners of fear, fantasy, fun and faith. Unfortunately, people are experiencing the millennium in the narrow confines of corridors, which keep changing direction and ultimately lead to dead-ends, tragically similar to rats in a maze! First there is the opposite corners of Fear and Fantasy. Scholars tell us that these two twin trends, and the swings between us have characterized our century’s end for the past three hundred years. Alarm and enthusiasm, anxiety and excitement frames out the century-end effect. The French call it Fin de Siecle, or end of the age sickness.
Millennial Fear can be built on the framework of apocalypticism, conspiracism, survivalism. At the most, it sees the millennium as prelude to a final battle of biblical portions, or at the least a breakdown of the social order through a technological tribulation. Movies such as the Titanic, Armaggedon or Waterworld draw on this deep seated fear. Millennial Fantasy is utopian, rather than dis-utopian. It draws out 20,000 people to Denver for a Star Wars convention. Or builds a national audience for radio host, Art Bell. Here the accent is on the mythical beginning of the world, rather than its end. Those into Millennial Fun only see 2000 as the biggest New Year’s Eve in 1,000 years. One group in Southern California is organizing the Party, a four-day Woodstock like bash east of Los Angeles. This corner would also include those who see the millennium as a time to do something extraordinary, whether usual competitions or extreme sports.
Think with me. What kind of person is drawn to Colorado? It is someone looking for adventure, not someone that wants something stable and predictable. Historically it is someone who didn’t want to do the same thing as their father did. And Colorado still draws that kind of person. The Mile High Millennial Season need to be unveiled as a new adventure. It needs to invite those stuck in the Millennial Fear corner to internalize, rather than externalize their fears and slay their own dragon, rather than demonize others. For those into Millennial Fantasy, it needs to remind them that the new millennium is not axiomatic with cataclysmic change, that despite earth change prophecies to the contrary, we will wake up on January 1, 2001 with a great deal of unfinished business.
To those into Millennial Fun, it needs to remind them that New Year’s 2000 is not just all fireworks, but it also calls us to make a new century pledge. Deep down, we all want to fit in, we all want to belong to something greater than ourselves. We need to call people toward Millennial Faith. This is not apocalyptic spirituality–but authentic spirituality. A civic spirituality which affirms our human and social potential. Becoming a millennium community is about reaffirming our faith in ourselves, faith in our children and in our neighbors. This is forward looking faith which creates a sustainable future, a great millennium, a period of peace and posterity.
This is civic millennialism of the sort which creates a culture of peace and sense of place apart from which no community can become great. If you like to understand the millennium experience further, I have brought along 175 copies of The Millennium Book: Your essential guide to the Year 2000 which is free for you to take, compliments of my consulting firm, Talk 2000. In the back it tells how you can get in touch with our research.
Go for the Gold in 2000!
Let me try to wrap this up! When I worked at Temple University some 20 plus years ago I discovered the story of Acres of Diamonds, a true tale told by Russell Conwell their founder. The story is about a well to-do man who caught diamond fever one night and sold his property to travel world to find gems. Tragedically, he died a poor and broken man on the Straits of Gibraltar. Later the largest diamond mine in the world was found in his very backyard! Listen to me, Denver! Your gold is not in some in some distant sea or far-away mountain; it is in your own back yard if you will but dig for it. And in doing so you will, you will discover the Mile High Millennium and be able to celebrate your role in tomorrow, while remembering yesterday’s tears. Thank you very much.
Postscript: Well, Denver didn’t buy my proposal to create a multi-month “MILE-lennium” but they did host a downtown millennial party 18-months later on December 31, 2000, that gained statewide and national recognition. From 1997 through 1999, I served as a millennial consultant to cities, click here to see my brochure
This was address given to the Millennium Forum by Jay Gary on May 7, 1999 in Denver. This forum was sponsored by the Mayor’s Office of Art, Culture and Film, the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, and the Denver Metro Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.
Dr. Jay Gary is president of PeakFutures.com, a foresight consulting group. Over the past twenty years Jay has helped non-profits, foundations, civic leaders, and strategic alliances to create more promise filled futures. He also teaches strategic foresight, innovation and leadership at the graduate level and through professional development courses..