Fifteen reasons why young people are moving to Colorado

No. 15: You can wear flannel ironically or unironically. Slide Show: 15 Reasons Denver is the Coolest City.
No. 15: You can wear flannel ironically or unironically. Slide Show: 15 Reasons Denver is the Coolest City.

From this state's start, manufactured messages designed to draw people here have not worked out particularly well. The "Pikes Peak or Bust" slogan that lured thousands of gold-seekers to the confluence of the South Platte and Cherry Creek saw far more of them go bust — and then back home — than strike it rich. Colorado's official tourism slogans — most infamously, "Colorado Above All," with its echoes of the Nazis' "Über Alles" — have done no better. And then there's the godawful new motto for Colorado Springs, "Live It Up!," which sounds like an anti-erectile-dysfunction ad.

The truly successful siren songs for Colorado have been far less calculated. Seventy years after Katharine Lee Bates touted "purple mountain majesties," John Denver — born Henry John Deutschendorf — provided the inspiration for a generation of young pioneers to come to Colorado, gather around the campfire and enjoy a "Rocky Mountain High." And now this state is again experiencing a youthquake, with the Denver metro area suddenly ranking at the very top of the country's "cool cities."

That's according to William Frey, senior fellow of the Metropolitan Policy program for the Brookings Institution, who parsed the numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey and determined that from 2008 through 2010, even as the hopes for a quick comeback from the recession faded, young adults between the ages of 25 and 34 were high on Denver...and proved it by coming here.

"To the extent that they are moving at all," Frey says, "young adults are headed to metro areas which are known to have a certain vibe — college towns, high-tech centers, and so-called 'cool cities.'"

And the coolest of all? Denver, which had ranked a mediocre twelfth in the last survey, covering 2005 through 2007. But in the years that followed, the metro area pulled far ahead of such previous hotspots as Phoenix and Atlanta, which barely gained any young adults between 2008 and 2010, while Denver added a chart-topping 10,429.

"There is no doubt that the current economic doldrums are leaving many young people in limbo — some on city streets outside financial institutions and stock exchanges — waiting for employment and housing opportunities to emerge," Frey notes, citing the Occupy crowds that have sprung up across the country. "When the economy does eventually pick up, they will follow the jobs, no doubt, wherever they become available. In the meantime, a select group of metro areas with modestly growing economies, and strong youth cachet, seem to be the places where they are riding out the downturn."

And why not cool their heels in the coolest city of them all? A quick inventory of Westword staffers — many of them recent residents of the area and exemplars of the very phenomenon that Frey described — came up with fifteen reasons to chill in Denver right now.

Also see: "15 Reasons Denver is the Coolest City" slide show

15. You can wear flannel ironically or un-ironically.

14. Anyone can join the Mile High Club.

13. Occupy Denver has elected a dog, Shelby, as its leader, and continues to draw an enthusiastic, and all-ages, crowd to its Saturday marches.

12. The cultural conglomeration in the Golden Triangle includes the Denver Public Library, with awesome views and the awe-inspiring Fresh City Life, which puts on most of its programs for free.

11. Downtown Denver doesn't shut down after 6 p.m., like the downtowns of so many other cities.

10. Trucks and vendors peddle their wares to the let-out crowd, while breakfast-burrito salesmen knock on just about every office door each morning.

9. Green chile might have gotten its start in New Mexico, but it reached its peak in Denver, where it's best enjoyed smothering a Mexican hamburger, which was definitely invented here (unlike the much-touted cheeseburger).

8. The independent arts and music scenes are vibrant...and if you can't earn a living here, at least you can enjoy the show!

7. Denver offers every kind of free public-park option: dog parks, skate parks, bike parks, walking parks, grassy parks, gay parks...and, above all, Red Rocks.

6. Matt Stone and Trey Parker proved you don't have to graduate from the University of Colorado to hit it big on the small screen...and then make fun of Mormons on Broadway.

5. Denver enjoys 300 days of sunshine — if you're fairly liberal with your definition of sunshine — which quickly melt the snow in the city while keeping the white stuff on the peaks.

4. The view to the west, and the ability to head for those hills in under thirty minutes — unless you're driving on I-70 at rush hour.

3. Thanksgiving is affectionately dubbed "Danksgiving," thanks to the dozens of dispensaries that represent this city's major growth industry.

2. The Front Range is on the front line of this country's beer production, frequently clocking in at number one for craft beer...

1. And Colorado is certainly the only state whose governor got his start in the public eye as a bar owner.

Let us give thanks.

View the full results of Frey's study.

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