Former Disney designer quietly sways Glenwood
Post Independent Correspondent
She says what she thinks. And they listen.
She is Lisa Newman. They are City Council.
You may have seen Newman walking around town with her (late) canine companion, a beautiful white Samoyed named Sam, who usually carried a well-loved stuffed tiger in his mouth. She may have been wearing a well-worn sweatshirt and baseball cap. It may have been a Disneyland sweatshirt.
She is a simple, quiet, no-frills resident of downtown Glenwood. She is a cancer survivor, a former Disney and Universal Studios designer, a talented artist and a community visionary. She has opinions about the future of Glenwood Springs that are worth hearing.
Newman has been in Glenwood since 1989. She grew up in Hollywood and studied landscape architecture and planning at UCLA and the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. In her career with Disney, she was on the Epcot Center design team, first in show set design for the rides and attractions and later in landscape and planning. She worked with Universal Studios for almost 10 years in set design on various projects, including the favorites “Murder She Wrote,” “Back to the Future,” “Dragnet” and “Midnight Run.”
When her parents passed away, she decided she’d had enough of the big city and moved to the Roaring Fork Valley. Newman continued practicing landscape architecture and concept design until cancer slowed her down.
Her illness did not slow her creativity or drive, however, and Newman has found an outlet for it in community involvement. She began to take an interest in attending City Council meetings when the downtown parking structure was being designed.
“The first time I got up to speak in front of the council, I was so nervous I thought I was having a heart attack,” she recalled, laughing. “I didn’t even think they would listen to me.”
Newman realized quickly that council members in fact value input from residents.
“I think it does make a difference. I’ve seen it make a difference,” she says of her involvement, which now includes the parking garage, the Seventh Street sidewalk expansion and bridge planning. She admits that it is sometimes a frustratingly long and laborious process, but worth it if you have a passion.
“Now it’s just part of what I do as a citizen. I found out that not many people are putting their input in and I don’t understand why. They’ll listen — if you have something to say. Even if you don’t have something to say they’ll listen to you,” she chuckled.
Newman’s current passion is creating something exciting on the river side of Seventh Street, for which a plan is being developed. Her vision is a water element and garden settings with perhaps a no-smoking park that would be a nice visual asset and a complement to the outdoor dining now at all the Seventh Street restaurants between the bridge and Blake Avenue.
“Water is the essence of our town. We live on a confluence; we have the biggest hot springs pool in the world. Let’s bring that in and celebrate that. And let’s not take out the trees. I think a fountain there with a pretty little garden where you can go and eat your lunch, and kids could play — I think that would be lovely.”
She adds that design can change an area aesthetically and functionally to manage some issues that may not be desirable or conducive to tourism, which in her opinion Seventh street has right now.
What is her message was to Glenwood residents?
“Get involved. Express what you want to see. We were voted with all these honors, like Most Fun Town in America. It is a really exciting time here in Glenwood, and there’s money coming in from other places, and it is an amazing opportunity and a good time to get involved and shape your town, whatever your passion is. Whether it’s architecture or history or business or social or recreational,” she said.
“Things don’t happen by themselves. We need people to make things happen. I feel good about being involved because I think I’ve been able to make a small difference.”
Newman believes that people rarely have opportunities to create and dictate how our community looks for the future. She believes we have that opportunity right now in Glenwood in planning the urban landscape of the town. Her vision is to embrace the character of a small town in a naturalistic setting.
“I like the small town. I come from LA. I left LA because I was sick of it. In my opinion, keeping things at the pedestrian and human level is the way to go.”
She believes Glenwood has lots of residents and friends who have talent and ideas to offer, maybe in the most unlikely places.
“I think we need a lot more people like Lisa,” said Councilman Matt Steckler, who noted that he doesn’t always agree with her. “There are certainly not many people involved with the council right now, and her involvement has been valuable as a voice for downtown Glenwood.”
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The Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association is working with local businesses and organizations to celebrate the spirit of Strawberry Days with a Berry Special Weekend from June 18-20, according to a news release.