Denver is the commercial, financial, industrial, and government center for Colorado and a seven-state region of Rocky Mountain and western Plains states. The city and its surrounding area continue to be one of our favorite large cities, and the list of reasons is large; however, crowding and growth is taking its toll.
The downtown area is vibrant, functional and attractive, one of the best downtowns in the country in our view as a business center, an attraction for local residents, and a place to live. More than most US cities today, people want to live close to downtown, and good city neighborhoods combine with new housing in former industrial areas adjacent to downtown and the South Platte River to make it possible. The “LoDo,” or Lower Downtown area just to the northwest of the main downtown features renovated late 19th century commercial and factory buildings repurposed into small business, entertainment and shopping venues, accessible, walkable and livable at all times. This area is anchored by the nicely restored Denver Union Station rail terminal, and the crown jewel is the industrial revival-style Coors Field ballpark. It is one of the finest urban-core restorations in the country.
South of that area, also along the water, are new museums, a new convention center, excellent performing arts venues and new sports facilities adding to the life and utility of the downtown area. Beyond downtown and mainly east and south is a patchwork of older neighborhoods with desirable early-20th-century housing, mixed with a few well-spaced high rises. The city spreads into suburbs in all directions and especially east and south with varying living environments, but most suburban areas are attractive and well connected to downtown. All of this, of course, is in view of the main Rocky Mountain ridges, bringing picture postcard vistas on most days except when smog and haze occasionally take over.
All services and amenities are of the first order. Air service at the new Denver International Airport, the hub of discount carrier Frontier Airlines, is plentiful, although the facility is not conveniently located for most local residents. The old Stapleton airport 5 miles east of downtown is undergoing a massive residential and commercial redevelopment and may turn out to be another area crown jewel. The Rockies to the west offer unlimited recreational opportunities, including skiing, hiking, fishing, and watersports. A unique “Snow Train” service takes skiers to Winter Park and other resorts. Museums, performing arts, libraries, bookstores, and professional sports are abundant and more accessible than in comparable places. The historical heritage of the city and region is interesting and well preserved. New gambling venues have revived such mining ghost towns to the west as Central City and Blackhawk; whether this is a tasteful use of historic sites brings different opinions.
Suburbs offer a lot of attractive living choices and environments in all price ranges. Many have good town centers of their own and plenty of local employment, especially those near the Denver Tech Center to the south. Close to the city, the Cherry Creek area and the Park Hill neighborhood east of the large “City Park” offer excellent living just a few miles from the downtown core. South of town the large suburbs of Littleton and Centennial offer good schools and housing, and still further south Castle Rock offers family living in more of a country setting, though growth in this direction has been maybe a little too rapid. Aurora, to the east is very large but rather featureless, as is Lakewood to the west. The other more attractive suburbs lie to the northwest towards Boulder – Arvada, Westminster, Lafayette, and Louisville. The latter two are in Boulder County and actually covered under Boulder. These suburbs are self-contained towns with a strong country feel and plenty of local employment.
Denver’s many attractions continue to lure new residents. Population grew 54% from 1990 to 2005 and is showing no signs of slowing. The impact is starting to show in cost of living, now at a borderline high 108. The good news: costs have stayed relatively constant, given this pressure, compared especially to other large cities and other Western locations. Despite persistent efforts to keep the downtown attractive, urban sprawl has generated traffic, long commute times, and smog, particularly in the summer months and particularly along the I-25 north-south corridor. The economic picture is still favorable but not without risk, and the area is stimulating and relatively affordable for a big city. The downsides of commutes, air quality and some cost factors brought a drop in ranking, but we like Denver more than the figure indicates.
The city lies at the western edge of the undulating high prairie that extends east towards Kansas. The front wall of the Rockies rises abruptly west of town with numerous stream valleys and canyons converging in the South Platte River. The invigorating continental climate, typical of the Rocky Mountain region, brings frequent changes, but only short durations of extremely warm or cold weather.
Situated a long distance from any moisture source and separated from the Pacific Ocean by several high mountain barriers, Denver enjoys low relative humidity, light precipitation, and abundant sunshine. Summer days are warm with occasional thundershowers and cool evenings. Severe weather is usually confined to areas farther east. The mountains shelter the area from the strongest winter storms and cold air blasts, but fall and spring usually bring at least one snowstorm. Spring is the cloudiest and wettest season. First freeze is early October, last is late May.