I grew up in Denver, but I’ve spent the majority of the last ten years outside of Colorado, living in major European cities, on the Best Coast, and even spending some time in the South, and what I can tell you without a doubt is that Denver is not special.
Before you cancel me, hear me out: It is a very special place. Mountain views and Broncos-colored sunsets are spectacular. People here are genuinely friendlier to strangers than compared to most places where I’ve visited or lived (though Berliners set a low bar there). The food and drink scene has really turned it up a notch in the last few years. Also: weed, if you’re into that. But the issue of increasing homogeneity that we are grappling with as a city, and which op-eds like this one rail against (although with little nuance and less coherency), is not unique. And I am — and you are — the problem. Not just the transplants.
An upper-middle-class white male in his early thirties citing an influx of upper-middle-class white males in their late twenties as a problem is nothing short of spectacularly lacking in introspection; that’s some beautiful irony in an opinion piece. But it does bring to light a relevant topic of discussion: Why do we hate transplants so much?
I, like the author, moved to Denver in my infancy, and thus cannot claim the seemingly coveted “native” moniker (nor do I want to, out of respect for indigenous peoples). My parents came to Denver in the early ’90s from California. My father moved to California from Oklahoma in the early ’80s. Somewhere further back, my ancestors came over from Europe on a boat. People move. We change cities, states, countries. That’s not new. What is new is the ways our cities, states and countries are all starting to look the same because of the increased ease and speed of that mobility. And transplants, who bring with them trendy cocktail bars à la NYC, the laid-back-but-upscale cafe vibes of the Bay Area, their scooter-share obsession, and sports fandom that matches the enthusiasm if not the franchise of our own (how dare they?!), remind us that we are perhaps not so unique after all. Because, clearly, we all love that shit.
To blame one category of transplant (defined by an exceedingly specific set of parameters) for perceived shifts in our city’s makeup and cultural identity is not only carelessly general and unhelpful, it also paints an inaccurate picture and ignores the serious nature of the infrastructural and cultural problems we’re facing as we continue to grow. Denver's population has grown by 20 percent since 2010, and we have indeed gotten whiter (76 percent white currently, according to the most recent stats, compared to 65 percent white in 2000). Now, that’s an issue worth discussing: How do we make our communities increasingly inclusive? How do we ensure marginalized communities aren’t priced out of their homes and neighborhoods? This is not a unique problem to Denver either, though. The same conversation was hot while I was a resident of San Francisco, and also while I lived in Berlin, and I’m way more concerned about this — locally and globally — than I am about some youth taking up space at a concert venue and harshing your mellow.
As cities are grappling with complex issues of growth and all that comes with it (rising rents, decreased access to critical services, whiney op-eds), our global culture is increasingly becoming one big Instagram photo shoot thanks to the worldwide spread of highly specific aesthetic standards and global access to trending brands, menus and concepts. People love to hate this, but ultimately, do we? We can’t have nice things, because as people, we insist on replicating the things we love and the commercially successful concepts in market after market. I’ve seen it happen in Paris as much as I’ve seen it happen here: trendy açai bowl spots in the Marais where a classic bistro once stood. Change is inevitable, but it can still rub people the wrong way if their worldview is firmly rooted in nostalgia. I get that. But certainly, pointing fingers at “rude douchebags” as the singular source of strife for a growing, evolving city does little to address how we can preserve the best elements of Denver’s history and identity while embracing its future.
Perhaps Denver isn’t special in the issues it faces, but I do believe it is uniquely equipped to face them with candid introspection, a mind toward growth and progress, and without the “othering” that we see in populations faced with similar issues around the world (especially when that “other” is just you, five years ago). Only 47 percent of Colorado’s current population was born here, and of that group, many are likely here because their parents or, less likely, their parents, discovered the state’s high quality of life defined by stunning nature, plentiful sunshine and good people.
So instead of unleashing your wrath and rancor on some fictional, overgeneralized trope of a human while praising a local Lyft driver who contains multitudes, take a beat and consider how you might help Denver continue to be a place that embraces and accepts people as they are, even if you deem them “basic.” For those of us who have taken the time to get to know a transplant or two, it’s not so shocking that they might also be multifaceted people with a bevy of diverse interests, not defined by a list of attributes, who can contribute to Denver’s specialness. Because transplants: They’re just like you and me.
For the past six months, tech PR consultant Laurel Toney has been back in Denver, rediscovering this much-changed city after having spent the past six years in Paris, San Francisco and Berlin.
Westword occasionally publishes op-eds on matters of interest to Denver residents (as well as responses to op-eds). If you have one you'd like to submit, send it to [email protected]