Neighborhoods

Why Parker Was Named Second-Best Place to Live in America

The entrance to O'Brien Park in downtown Parker.
The entrance to O'Brien Park in downtown Parker. Photo by Michael Roberts
Money magazine just released its list of the best places to live in America in 2020, and the Douglas County community of Parker finished second, behind only Evans, Georgia.

After receiving an early heads-up regarding this honor, we headed to Parker on Saturday, September 19, to get a sense of what so impressed Money's minions. What we found was a bucolic community that's very affluent, very white (we saw a single family of color during our visit), and growing like mad. Massive tracts of land are being graded in preparation for new subdivisions that will allow many more people to experience a lifestyle that shows few negative effects from the COVID-19 pandemic.

That makes sense: According to updated figures about per capita infection rates, only one in 142 residents of Douglas County has contracted the novel coronavirus, placing it 33rd among Colorado's 64 counties. Nonetheless, most people in the public places we visited around Parker had masks on, unless they were dining at one of the many outdoor patios in town; most practiced some degree of social distancing. But there were definitely exceptions to that rule.

Money's introduction to Parker boasts these basic factoids:
Population: 59,000
Median household income: $114,000
Median home price: $486,000
Unemployment rate: 8.7 percent
click to enlarge A sign on an outdoor patio on Parker's Mainstreet and a resident displaying his belief that blue lives matter. - PHOTOS BY MICHAEL ROBERTS AND DEB ROBERTS
A sign on an outdoor patio on Parker's Mainstreet and a resident displaying his belief that blue lives matter.
Photos by Michael Roberts and Deb Roberts
"A generation ago, Parker was still a ranching outpost of less than 5,000," the Money item points out. "But as Colorado’s economy and population took off in the late 1990s, Parker began to attract white-collar workers and young families looking for more space than Denver had to offer." Moreover, with home prices "skyrocketing in Denver, surrounding areas like Parker are starting to look more attractive. Homes in Parker are listed for roughly $169 per square foot compared to $338 in Denver. ... And it might be the right time to buy in: In the last two years, prices for homes were up 2.4 percent in Denver vs 7.2 percent in Parker."


The piece adds: "Based on our estimates, only about one in five Parker residents works in industries seriously impacted by COVID-19, like retail and entertainment. And about 76 percent of the people here own their homes."

No wonder Parker scored so high in two of Money's main metrics: Economy and Health and Safety.

On the afternoon of September 19, dozens upon dozens of people were walking around downtown Parker, where oodles of restaurants and shops line Mainstreet. We didn't see a single empty storefront.

click to enlarge Attendees at Railbender Skate & Tennis Park on September 19. - PHOTO BY MICHAEL ROBERTS
Attendees at Railbender Skate & Tennis Park on September 19.
Photo by Michael Roberts
O'Brien Park, a lovely facility centered around a gazebo, also boasts walking paths and a large playground, where unmasked kids were frolicking. Nearby, families and other groups were enjoying casual lunches at establishments embracing the Colorado casual culture.

One eatery spotlighted live music behind a fence festooned with a sign on which the phrases "Thank You For My Freedom" and "Thank You For Your Service" were emblazoned over an American flag backdrop — a reflection of Parker's conservative nature. So, too, was a truck roaring around the area while flying a Blue Lives Matter flag (along with a Colorado state flag) from its bed.

Another busy spot was Railbender Skate & Tennis Park, which was crowded with skater tots. Facial coverings in the main skating area definitely weren't a thing, and groups freely mingled, suggesting that the idea of infection happening in such an ideal setting was utterly unfathomable. But at big-box stores in sprawling commercial developments, safety protocols were very much in evidence, if only because masks were required for entry. After all, businesses don't want to risk liability, no matter how perfect a place might seem.

And Parker certainly does look perfect. Even without advocacy from Money (which also loves Broomfield, which finished in eighteenth place), the community is booming, whether the country is in crisis or not.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts