Earlier this year, I penned a love letter to Denver, the city I used to know. It wasn't meant to be more than a lamenting for a physical place that no longer exists -- a remembrance of the city that I have been watching change since 1980. Denver, like many cities, is experiencing a boom, but we are perhaps feeling it more than most: The Mile High City has outpaced the national rate of growth every decade for the past eighty years.
As we continue to see more humans populate our city-space, I worry a lot about how to keep intact the things that make Denver Denver. If you've just moved here from a smaller city, imagine going back to where you grew up six months from now and not recognizing it. This is the reality of Denver at the moment. But as 2014 comes to a close, here are some things that I'm dreaming about for 2015, things we can all do to keep Denver great.
Rent control should be a real thing in Denver The biggest topic of concern I'm hearing right now is that rent in Denver sucks. Gone are the days when you could rent a four-bedroom house on 14th Avenue and York Street for under $1,200 a month. No longer do those $400 studio apartments in Capitol Hill exist where you shared a building with young bartenders and older ladies with three cats who had rented there since the '60s, when no one wanted to live in the city.
But last week, when the $900-a-month, 330-square-foot "micro-apartment" project was announced inside the soon-to-be revamped VQ Hotel over by the football stadium, I almost spit my tea across my computer screen. Come to find out, it's another nightmare from Boutique Apartments, the company that thinks screwing old vacuums to the side of a perfectly good mid-century apartment building makes it look cool.
This is exactly what we don't need in Denver. If we are going to continue to grow at a healthy rate that allows for people of all income levels and economic situations to thrive, there needs to be some form of rent control put into place. I have heard horror stories from friends who are perfectly good tenants seeing their rent go up by $300 to $400 as leases renew. When Denver's population starts to only look like one kind of person -- the younger, wealthier urban professional who can afford ridiculous rent -- then what good is a city anymore? That's a Denver I don't want to see.
Legal weed is cool, but it isn't everything. Before we legalized it, Denver was buying weed from neighborhood dealers -- just like every other place in the country. Now that it's legal, it's everywhere. But it shouldn't be what defines us. I was just as stoked as the next guy to be able to walk down the street and purchase an edible, but pot shops on every corner does not a city make. We have other cool stuff here that's worth celebrating -- museums full of great art, concert venues, local restaurants, cultural festivals and independent retail shops, just to name a few. Those are the things you should tell your out-of-town friends about. Come for the pot, stay for the actual Denver experience.
Don't like what you see happening in your hood? Change it. Regardless of whether you've been in Denver for three months or thirty years, being an advocate for the neighborhood you inhabit is everyone's job. Last week, I talked about the city's current survey of the area around Brighton Boulevard -- which has many people (including myself) concerned for the community and culture that already exist in this area. But when the city actively asks for the population's input -- regardless of what we think the outcome will be -- it is important to participate and share our vision for Denver.
For example, look to the multiple neighborhood organizations that aided in taking down Mayor Hancock's terrible City Loop project, which threatened to decrease the green space in Denver. Or take a cue from the people of Wheat Ridge, who have been battling that neighborhood-crushing behemoth Walmart with their No Walmart at 38th and Wadsworth campaign. Whether it is a proposed city project or an attempted corporate land grab, your voice can be a part of what shapes this city's future.
Support local businesses. No, for real. All of them. Several friends who had come back to Denver for the holidays remarked that Denver feels like it has been taken over by chain stores and restaurants. Though the power of the McDonald's and Starbucks machines can feel unstoppable, they can be stopped -- just by spending our money elsewhere. From Novo Coffee to Pablo's, you don't have to look far to find local goods.
Even if you just moved here, all it takes is a little research to see just how much we have in goods and services produced here. Ikea is cool and all, but did you know that American Furniture Warehouse is a Colorado company that started in 1975 and is still locally owned and operated? Or maybe instead of heading to Trader Joe's, shop King Soopers because it carries an extensive selection of produce grown here in Colorado. Or support the little guy and head to Pete's Fruits & Vegetables in Crestmoor, or one of the two Marczyk Fine Foods locations.
So here's to 2015. By spending your money in Colorado, advocating for affordable housing, speaking up when it comes to neighborhood and community issues and, for goddess's sake, talking about something other than weed, we can all keep Denver, well, Denver.
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