Colorado is an easy target. We're America's new hip spot to stake your claim, and the things and experiences that supposedly identify us as "uniquely Colorado" are being exploited and worse, falsely portrayed as representative of who we are. Take the influx of Colorado-themed merchandise lately. We've always been CO proud, but the sheer volume of hats, shirts, bumper stickers, pint glasses, doggie apparel and the like emblazoned with images of our state flag, variations on our license plate, the mountains, our famed 303 area code and weed (the true sign of a Colorado newbie) can be found everywhere. Stores selling piles of this state-pride propaganda look like truck stops in the middle of the city.
It all feels like free advertising for a city that, while great in my eyes, isn't getting a fair presentation. To me, it's bandwagon-jumping at its best — signing on to shout from the rooftops that you love something you might not even really know anything about. Not like there's a handbook to get to know Colorado that you're given when you move here that explains our state's complicated history, the cultural enclaves that make Denver a diverse and welcoming city and the role the mountains have played in making us who we are. But there's no coincidence that the hundreds of thousands of people moving here over the last few years has equated to an exponential growth in the visibility of state pride. To me, that pride comes at a price.
I often wonder: Why doesn't state pride equate to things like better voter turn-out? The last Denver mayoral election took place in May of this year; 94,525 votes were tallied. Yet between 2013 and 2014, Colorado added 83,780 new residents, the majority of those landing in the Denver metro area. With 2.9 million of us living in the Mile High City and 3.3 million of us expected to be here by 2020, why aren't we getting ourselves to the polls to show off that state pride? I would think that donning a hat that says 303 and a sweatshirt proclaiming the coolness of Colfax would also mean that you want to have a voice in what happens to this place.
Currently, the Denver City Council's lame duck session is letting developers and their money run amok in our city as we sit here and watch. I'm pretty sure that if you moved here in the last five years, part of the reason you decided Denver was your new city was because it was uniquely Denver. I don't totally blame this massive overhaul of our city blocks on the arrival of new folks to our square state. Yes, new buildings are being constructed every day to house all of these people who are running to Colorado as fast as they can. But whether you moved here last week or were born here, I can only assume you have a desire for Denver to stay intact, not become a cardboard wasteland of shoddy construction. (See Michael Paglia's cover story from last week, "The Ten Worst 21-Century Buildings in Downtown Denver," to get an idea of just how bad and how ugly things are getting in Denver.)
I'm not saying you can't love Colorado and show how much you love it here by wearing it on a T-shirt or whatever. I think Colorado is fucking great! That's why I'm still here, even as the place I was born changes into something barely recognizable. But what if all of that energy spent thinking about how cool it is here was put into something more than just buying a T-shirt? If you bought your CO swag from a local business, even better. But supporting local can go even further when you put your mind and energy into things that can really change a city for the better, like getting civically engaged. Voting is free and open to anyone. Being a part of your community in meaningful ways will go a lot further than just thinking this place is "Coloradical."
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