A Broad’s View: Denver’s Rapid Growth

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Brooke Dilling | @brookefrances

Have you heard the story about placing a frog in a pot of water and slowly bringing it to a boil? At first the frog is fine. The water is a normal temperature and the frog doesn’t mind being in the pot. As the temperature slowly changes, the frog is able to adjust its body temperature to the changing water temps. Just before the water begins to boil, the frog realizes it’s in trouble. It tries to jump out of the pot, but has used so much of its energy to cope with the water temps, it doesn’t have the capacity to get out of the pot. The water boils and the frog dies.

Lately I feel this way about Denver.

I moved to Denver in July 1998. And in the close-to-20 years I’ve been here, Denver has changed drastically. Denver used to be a city with the feeling of a big town. But now we’re a big city with big city issues.  The change happened slowly at first, and perhaps I wasn’t paying attention. But lately, Denver is experiencing crazy growth and it’s become a city I don’t recognize. And, to be honest, a city I don’t love as much as I used to.

Some Denver Love

Don’t get me wrong, Denver has some great things going for it. Our unemployment rates are some of the lowest in the country. If you bought a home before the Denver boom (as I did), you’ve probably got a lot of equity in your house.

Additionally, we have great opportunities for art and culture. The Performing Arts Complex brings in exceptional Broadway shows and first-run theatre productions. This August, the Disney musical Frozen premiers here before going to Broadway. Hamilton will come to Denver in 2018.

Our music scene keeps growing. With venues like Red Rocks and the newly opened Levitt Pavilion, music, and outdoor concerts in particular, is only getting better. And it’s looking more likely Denver will have its own music festival at Overland Golf Course sometime in late summer 2018.

And Some Gripes

But with 4,000 people moving to our fair city a month--yes, you heard me correctly: 4,000 people move to Denver each month, Denver has some serious growing pains.  

One of the biggest complaints you’ll hear peppered into any small talk is Denver’s traffic. In past years, I-25 was always been a gamble; hit the interstate at the wrong time and you’ll be moving at a snail’s pace all the way to your destination. But if you were on the interstate outside of rush hour, you could get where you were headed fairly quickly. Today, every hour on I-25 seems to be rush hour. It takes me twice as long to get anywhere; my drive to and from work has become miserable.

The people of Denver used to be kind and courteous. But with big-city growth, comes big-city attitudes, too. People seem less willing to give each other space, a wave, a helping hand. Maybe it’s too many people on top of one another but we aren’t the friendly city we used to be.

Denver feels claustrophobic. Part of my reason for moving west was access to city life along with wide-open spaces just outside of the city’s perimeter. Colorado had sunshine and trails and opportunities for hiking, biking, skiing, and camping. Today, getting to the mountains is a pain (traffic), and even the trails are crowded. It’s harder to get to the places where I feel I can breathe.

Boiling Point

Suddenly, for me, Denver has reached a boiling point. I feel like that frog trapped in a pot, and I’m wondering if it’s time to get out.  The Denver that I love is no more. I think it’s been gone for quite awhile, I was just slow to realize how much it was changing around me. I want my kids to be able to have space to play safely with breathing space around them. I want more time spent doing what I love, and less time stuck in my car. And I’m left wondering where to go to have the big-town, small community feel I fell in love with and now miss.