The City of Aurora really came into its own in the 1970s and '80s, when it was one of America’s fastest-growing cities. But because of that fast growth, Aurorans have had to deal with a number of issues over the years, as the growing pains of a community meet the stresses of being a suburb of the Queen City of the Plains. (That’s Denver, by the way.)
You might think that sharing a name with the famous Wayne’s World home town of Aurora, Illinois, might be on the list of things that make Aurora residents really, really mad — but really, just being included in this series that started out talking about Denver’s neighborhoods is enough to tick off any Aurora resident. Which leads nicely into the first of eight gripes:
8. Being Called a Suburb
Despite the fact that Aurora is the third-largest city in Colorado (behind Denver proper and Colorado Springs), Aurora is still considered “just” a suburb of Denver and not a city in its own right, especially not on a national level. (For example, many national news outlets consistently referred to the “Aurora Theater Shooting” as having occurred in Denver.) Aurora’s population in the 2013 was estimated to be 345,000, which is more than twice that of Fort Collins and over triple Pueblo’s numbers. And if you go by acreage? Aurora is bigger than Denver — just less built out. But does Aurora get the same attention, on a national or even a state level? Rarely. And this gets the goat of many an Aurora citizen, including one former mayor, who suggested that the Denver metropolitan area (which contains Aurora, Lakewood and a bunch of smaller bedroom communities and geographically swallowed-up townships) be redubbed the “Aurora-Denver Metropolitan Area.” That didn’t fly, but the sentiment behind the not-so-modest proposal still lingers.
Water has been an issue in Aurora for decades, starting back when it wasn’t even named Aurora. When the town was founded, it was called Fletcher, after land developer Donald Fletcher, who laid it out back in the 1880s. But Fletcher skipped making the town his namesake because of....water debt. Even if the name of the town changed, though, the water issue hasn’t over the years; in fact, water rights have become even more critical today. During the drought of the early 2000s, Aurora’s water restrictions were the tightest — and most severely enforced. This led to scores of dead lawns throughout Aurora, even as lawns a few streets over (but within Denver city limits) were allowed to stay green. Currently, Aurora is working to expand its reservoir system so that it can keep up with demand now, and increased demand in the future — because no one wants to go the Donald Fletcher route.
Stapleton was built right on the northwestern border of Aurora, and it wasn’t a great neighbor from the beginning. The new-urbanism enclave was designed to make it tough for people to go through Stapleton to get to Aurora (even though they still do), laying out the streets so that there were very few access points from the south, or even sidewalks or bike paths to connect the infill/upscale community with the Aurora homes directly to the south. When a new neighborhood and its citizenry make an area of town sincerely miss those halcyon days in the past when it was situated smack dab next to the old airport? You know there are no cookies being exchanged or cups of sugar being borrowed.
5. Traffic Cameras
More specifically, traffic cameras installed to catch left turns on red...or yellow(ish). The Aurora City Council is currently considering amending its photo red-light technology (which is provided by Xerox, under contract with the city), since nearly half the revenue from the photo red-light technology comes from left turns on irregularly timed yellow lights — which in some places last only three seconds, making it far more likely than not that a pedestrian will get caught in the intersection, technically walking against the light. Word is that rear-end collisions have gone up in these areas, as people who’ve been burned slam on their brakes unexpectedly. Everyone wants safer intersections — but maybe not at the expense of unfair tickets. Also: getting that ticket? Worst. Mail. Ever.
4. East Colfax
The Denver section of Colfax has seen a relative renaissance over the last decade or so. Sure, there are still some rough spots, but largely gone are the days when the street was rightfully known for prostitution, drugs (both sales and use), and drunken behavior of various sorts. (Okay, so there’s still a lot of drunken behavior at midtown Colfax — but more and more it’s hipsters wanting the dive-bar experience in a part of town where not many dive bars are left.) But the Aurora stretch of Colfax hasn’t experienced the same rejuvenation yet. Despite various attempts (particularly in the areas around the classic Fox Theater and the Anschutz Medical Campus), East Colfax has a long way to go. And now there's news that Sam Mendes and Steven Spielberg plan to make a movie based on Aurora's own "Voyeur's Motel," so you know that reputation isn't going to improve anytime soon.
It defies explanation how this road can legally be called an “expressway,” when just getting on the damn road from I-70 takes twenty minutes. Bonus: It has always been, and will always be, under construction. Maybe light rail will help?
2. Real Estate Prices
Back in 2014, the average four-bedroom house in Aurora went for almost $300K, which is a big jump from where it had been just a decade earlier, when the average home went for close to half that. So, yes, prices are higher than they used to be in Aurora…but they’re still far more reasonable than in neighboring Denver, where the average price is over $100K higher (and even at that price, homes are tougher to find). This is both good and bad for Aurora: While property values going up is usually seen as a good thing by those who’ve owned for a while, it makes buying a new home that much tougher for people moving in. Aurora sees an influx of new families and has a decided lack of affordability for the families that have been there the longest. That sounds eerily similar to that dreaded “g” word that afflicts so many areas in Denver: gentrification.
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1. Population Growth
As we noted above, Aurora’s estimated population in the 2013 census was almost 350,000; that number is projected to get as high as 600,000 by 2020. Almost doubling in under ten years would make any city strain under the pressure of serving that many more residents. Services suffer, the roads fill up with even more traffic, and life in general can take a turn for the worse. On the bright side, if Aurora can fill out all that empty space while Denver remains largely landlocked and unable to annex new space…maybe that modest mayoral proposal will come true after all. Aurora-Denver metro area? How about just the Aurora metro area? For now, as good as these name shifts sound, they're just an Aurorian dream.