It’s a warm winter evening, a perfect night for being out and about. I walk down the streets of Lodo (lower downtown, Denver’s city center), passing spacious breweries and newly remodeled Union Station. I pass a person or two, but otherwise the streets feel shockingly empty. I look in the window of a few cool-looking bars, and I see a few people at tables but no crowds. On a night like this in D.C., every seat at every bar in this neighborhood would be filled. It feels weird. It feels like the calm before the storm. Then it occurs to me: Denver is preparing. With a warehouse-sized brewery on every other corner, Denver doesn’t have the population to fill these spaces, not yet; but in a few short years, it will.
Denver is the one of the fastest growing cities in America, ranking somewhere between 4th and 6th depending on the source. Even more substantial is the number of those with college degrees moving in. According to the Washington Post over the last 5 years there has been a near 22% increase in educated young people, more than any other city in the nation, and that’s only set to increase. The economy is booming with energy, tech, and marijuana leading the charge. The predictions vary, but Denver’s government is estimating that the current population of roughly 650,000 is set to add another 132,000 people in the next 5 years or so, and Denver’s businesses are ready. So is the housing market, with a large amount of new condos and apartment buildings going up.
Personally I’m reveling in the spaciousness, the calmness, lamenting what’s to come. After living in D.C. for so long with its constant noise and bustle, I’m in love with Denver’s low-key vibe. I selfishly want the city to stay just how it is, and yet I’m guilty of attempting to convert East Coast friends. Denver is just so wonderful it’s hard not to want to share it with the people I love. I’ve been living in Denver now for just under two months, and I’m amazed at how much it’s changed since my childhood. I never spent much time in Denver, because honestly there wasn’t much to recommend it. Back in the ’90s, uptown was named 5 Points, and it was overrun by gangs and crime. I remember going there a couple times for raves as a teen; it was dirty, filled with sketchy characters and rundown warehouses where squatters laid on cold nights. It’s now been rebranded the River North Arts District, or RiNo for short. And those rundown warehouses have now been converted to gyms, cool coffee shops, sushi places, and finally a fucking walk-up cupcake stand. And back then, New Belgium Brewery was just a barrel of Fat Tire being brewed in Jeff Lebesch’s basement; now there are too many breweries to even count, not to mention wineries, pot shops, and even a whiskey distillery.