In previous installments of this series, we've focused on specific neighborhoods in Denver proper. This time, we're looking at what raises the ire of residents of one of Denver's suburb-cities to the north, Thornton. For some readers, this 'burb is home; for others, it's the part of town where they were raised; for many more, it's that part of the metro area they drive through while heading to Fort Collins...or American Furniture Warehouse. Either way.
Still, Thornton is a burgeoning city with its share of parks and streets and pets and people...so, as with everywhere else in metro Denver, its residents have their share of beefs. Like these seven, for starters.
7. Very little history
Since Thornton was incorporated only sixty years ago, the city is still a relative youth in terms of Colorado municipalities. With that comes a decided lack of history, with few noteworthy events or famous sons and daughters. (One of Thornton’s only claims to fame is that it was the city in which Rockies superstar Todd Helton was busted for a DUI back in 2013, when he drove out to get lotto tickets still drunk on red wine.) Likewise, no structure in Thornton is very old: Most neighborhoods go back to the 1960s at most, and even those are relatively rare. Missing are the brick bungalows and Denver squares from parts south; instead, you'll see siding and attached two-car garages and cul-de-sacs. Great for block parties, for sure, but not so great for old-fashioned charm.
Seriously, has there been a significant period of time over the last decade when there wasn’t construction where Thornton Parkway crosses I-25? Doesn’t seem like it, and that’s only the tip of the road-improvement iceberg where Thornton is concerned. Sure, it’s nice to have roads that aren’t pothole-slaloms — but it’s also nice to get home once in a while without seeing an orange cone, or (shudder) having to deal with the bottleneck created when the number of available lanes is reduced to one or two. That's the curse of the bedroom community: If you’re not able (or don’t want to) live where you work, the price of that is commuting, and I-25 is so irritating that we've written before about how to handle it.
5. Tolls and the New Definition of Carpooling
Speaking of I-25…Thornton residents just got the option to pay for that sucky commute — if they want to take advantage of the almost done (really, almost done, we swear) toll lanes from U.S. 36 all the way up to 120th Avenue. Granted, you will still be able to use the toll lane for free if you’re carpooling…but only with two other people instead of just one. That’s because the road is going to be rated HOV3, which means that in order to qualify for the free toll-lane trip, you have to have not two but a minimum of three people in your car. So, sorry, couples: You don’t count anymore unless you have a kid. And, sorry, carpoolers who don’t have a third: You’re not officially carpooling anymore. That’s some incentive, CDOT, and in no way does it seem like a complete cash grab.
4. Refugees From Denver
The population exploded between the 2000 and 2010 census, increasing 44 percent to almost 120,000 residents, making Thornton the largest city in Adams County (and the sixth largest in the state). Many of the families moving to Thornton were people fleeing Denver as real-estate prices climbed — either former owners cashing out on rising home values, or renters looking to buy but realizing quickly that the Denver market is not cost-friendly for first-time buyers. Then there were the sticker-shock folks moving in from out of state, reasonably deciding that a larger home in Thornton for half the price of a smaller house in Denver is just a better idea. Population explosions are both a blessing and a curse, of course — especially when your neighbor won’t shut up about how much that place they sold in Highland back in 2003 is worth these days.
3. Its Boundaries Are Indecipherable
Once you live in Thornton for a while, you get to know what’s where. But even when you know that, no, Water World isn’t in Thornton, but in Federal Heights, and Boondocks isn’t in Thornton but in Northglenn, it still doesn’t make any damn sense. Check out a map of the city limits of Thornton sometime; it’s a schizophrenic jigsaw of areas that are sometimes contiguous and sometimes not. As a result, there are scores of places in Thornton that are across the street from another suburb completely — with a third within sight. There’s a reason that one of the most-spoken sentences in Thornton is this one: “Wait, is this still Thornton?”
2. It’s All Suburbs
Thornton is full of neighborhoods surrounded by shops and restaurants — the same ones that you can find in pretty much every part of every major city in the United States these days. It’s all Applebee's and Taco Bells. Sure, every city has its boring strip-mall staples, but the unique city-specific spots are rare. Two notable exceptions? The great Jim’s Burger Haven on 88th Avenue, still going strong, and Brittany Hill, where nearly every high-schooler in Thornton had their senior prom and at least one wedding, now attempting a comeback as a rental venue.
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1. Growing Pains
Home prices are soaring, the population is booming (and aging), and the small-town sensibility that used to be its draw has faded into a middle-sized city of concrete and asphalt. The home-rule government works to maintain the livability of the city, but the struggle gets tougher as the city grows. And while there might be a plan for the future — after all, Thornton's motto is "City of Planned Progress" — it's about as inspiring and dynamic as it sounds.