Cool People Do Like Denver. Take That, Seattle!

Denver has traditionally looked up to Seattle the way a sixth-grader stares in awe at the cool high school neighbor from down the street. Unlike rock star cities like New York or London, Seattle is roughly similar in size and status to Denver, but has still managed to reach a level of hipness that Mile High City urbanites could look up to. Denver’s progressive cultural and political leaders took note of Seattle’s downtown vibe, music scene, coffee shops, liberal leanings and kick-ass walkability and thought it something that our city could reasonably aspire.

So Denver did things. We turned our crumbling downtown into a center for nightlife and provided subsidies to build neighborhoods on former industrial zones. We re-inhabited formerly abandoned commercial strips with unique restaurants and groceries. We grew a thriving arts district, remolded old theatres into music venues and sprouted coffee shops. And then we voted to pass the nation’s largest single public transportation initiative in the form of FastTracks, and began building a light rail system to connect the region and reign in sprawl. After all, light rail and monorail is something many in Seattle have been trying to get built for decades.

And we were very pleased when we heard that one of Seattle’s alternative newsweeklies, The Stranger, was sending a reporter all the way to our city to look at our light rail. Finally, we were running with the cool crowd! We were really excited last November when we began to read feature article written by Erica C. Barnett on how Denver could actually serve as a model for Seattle. OMFG!

Then we got to this paragraph:

“Denver is one of those cities hardly anyone would regard as cutting edge. The women still wear tube tops (or, if they're older, floral sweatshirts); the men still favor large wire-frame glasses last seen in these parts around 1992. Still, the seven counties in and surrounding Denver have done something truly remarkable: They've managed to reach consensus on a package of rail and road improvements that are actually getting people out of their cars and onto trains and buses.”

That’s when we realized the true premise of the article: How is it that these lame-asses in “Denver, Colorado – of all places,” can get light rail built while Seattle still quarrels over trains?

“Denver's not a paradise, of course. It's a sprawling, ugly mess of a city, with suburbs stretching out from the freeways as far as the eye can see. There are parking garages everywhere, with more proposed as part of the transit expansion plan. The "transit-oriented development" at Englewood had a distinctly suburban feel—identical taupe stucco and brick apartments perched on top of liquor stores, nail salons, and chain restaurants, and right around the corner was a massive, ugly Wal-Mart/Petco retail complex.”

The underlying hope of the article titled "Wake Up Call" was to shame Seattle residents into seeing how stupid they’re being by showing that even the backward rubes in disgusting Denver have managed to find a date to the big light rail prom.

Seattle was right, we realized. How could we ever think we were cool! No wonder all of our musicians, artists, writers and actors always leave us the second they get a scrap of fame. Our city ran back home to its room, slammed the door and took a good long, hard look in the municipal mirror. It wasn’t pretty: freeways, big-box stores, TGI Fridays. Highlands-fucking-Ranch!

For months, Denver stopped going out to underground warehouse concerts and art openings. The Ogden, Bluebird, Oriental and Bug theaters sat empty. Our mayor, John Hickenlooper – named one of the top US mayors by “Rise of the Creative Class” author Richard Florida – tried to console the city with wacky photo-ops with Denver Poet Laureate Chris Ransick. But it was to no avail. We let the Metro Area sprawl out in Aurora and Broomfield. We started shopping at Wal-Mart again, ignoring our cool independent record and book stores like Twist and Shout and the Tattered Cover. What does it matter anyway? We’re never going to break out of our third-tier city status. Denver might as well get all fat and stupid like Dallas/Fort Worth and go back to building parking lots.

But then, a few days ago, we read this letter in The Stranger’s “I Anonymous” section written by a former Denverite to the city of Seattle:

“I moved from Denver to be with you six years ago because you had an awesome bus system, you had oceans and mountains, you had perfect temperatures (if not enough sun), you had a nightlife, you were liberal, and you had plans—BIG plans. You told me about your light rail, and then your monorail. You told me about your urban revitalization, about your progressive agenda, about your trails and waterways. Six years have passed, and all I'm left with is my dick in my hand and a vitamin D deficiency. The light rail is years late, miles short, directionally challenged, and millions over budget. The monorail is dead; the SLUT is a joke. I'm priced out of your urban core, your liberal leadership is limper than Nickels and Chopp's dicks, your nightlife is being suffocated, and your trails are closed from lack of funding. So fuck you, Seattle, and good-bye. I'm headed back to Denver, where light rail is already built under budget and under time. I won't let the viaduct fall on me on my way out.”

We knew instantly that Anonymous was correct. Denver is pretty damn great and getting greater. Seattle is the one that’s gotten lazy, so comfortable in its own cool category that its political leaders have taken to bickering over funding like a mid-level inde rock band. We re-read Barnett’s article and realized it wasn’t trashing us as hard as we thought. Denver doesn’t need to compare itself to other cities to know it's cool. We just passed laws that will finally allow art galleries to serve beer and wine at openings. For the second time, the Congress for New Urbanism is holding it’s annual urban planning conference in Denver next year because our city has so many examples of smart development. And then there’s that little thing some people are throwing here this August called the Democratic National Convention.

So we welcome home Anonymous, along with all of our other cultural expatriates who left our fair streets for towns with cooler reputations. We’ve got bigger things to aspire to now. Like how we can become like San Francisco. – Jared Jacang Maher

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Jared Jacang Maher