Return to Denver: Clouds on the Horizon

Photo Source Scott McLeod | CC BY 2.0

I’m in Denver, Colorado, which I’ve not visited since my climbing days in the Rockies 25 years ago.

Colorado is considered by many to be a “liberal” US state, especially for the Mountain State area. It just elected the first openly gay governor in US history, the Democrat Jared Polis, who also happens to be Jewish. Polis will be the second Jewish governor after the 2018 midterms, the other being JB Pritzker, the billionaire Clintonite Democrat whose family founded the Hyatt hotel chain, who will become governor of Illinois.

Colorado was the first state to legalize marijuana. Alas, due to my asthma, I can neither smoke nor inhale.

I wondered if I’d come across that famous “non-inhaler” Bill Clinton on Denver’s streets exploring its marijuana shops while I was here, but this closest approximation to a presidential lounge lizard (among other things), was possibly “cavorting lewdly”– a phrase used by the late Alex Cockburn to describe Bill’s trysts at the nightclub of the Little Rock Hilton when he was governor of Arkansas—somewhere else.

Or else Slick Willy is currently doing more or less serious prep for the fatuous nationwide-tour Hillary and he are about to embark upon, intended to signal her Sisyphean entry into the 2020 presidential race.

As one of the larger US cities, Denver is fairly impressive.

Its mayor Michael Hancock is African-American, the second African-American to hold this post, in a city that is 69% white and 10% black. Democrats have held the mayor’s office since 1963, and all of Denver’s seats in the state legislature are held by Democrats.

Hancock though is hardly a luminary of progressive causes. Denver has an enlightened policy towards the homeless, but the corporate Democrat Hancock is a steadfast opponent of this policy.

In 2012 he signed legislation banning unauthorized camping, and in 2016 Hancock authorized his police force to crack down on residents in low-income housing. Colorado’s ACLU chapter criticized the mayor’s office for the misuse of appropriations intended for the homeless, instead using the money for evictions.

Hancock’s predecessors John Hickenlooper and Wellington Webb instituted policies to help the city’s homeless. As a result, Denver’s homeless ratewas 19 homeless per 10,000 residents in 2011, compared to 50 or more per 10,000 residents for the 4 metropolitan areas with the highest rate of homelessness.

So far mayor Hancock has not evicted the homeless from Denver’s many fine parks, which is where rough-sleepers tend to congregate.

2017 median income for the Denver metro area stood at $71,926, as opposed to $57,617 for the US nationally.

Population growth has been a mirror to Denver’s economic and cultural success– since 2010, the city’s population has grown by 101,403.Projections forecast an additional 1.3 million inhabitants in the Denver metro area by 2030.

Urban sprawl frequently accompanies population growth, and Denver is no exception—towns such as Boulder, a half-hour drive away, are now virtually suburbs of Denver, which was not the case when I was here 25 years ago.

A pendulum effect can start to operate when the flight to suburbia reaches saturation point—the declining downtown starts to become a cheaper and more convenient alternative to the increasingly costly suburbs.

Walking around the downtown area it is noticeable how many loft developments are springing up. The corollary of such gentrification is an increased scarcity of low-cost downtown property, and poorer Denverites, with no recourse to the always more expensive expensive suburbia, are now finding themselves caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, as they are priced-out of downtown living as well.

With such rapid population growth public transportation becomes a crucial consideration. Denver’s extensive and integrated bus and light-rail transport system is exemplary. The system is free in key parts, and a modest fare is charged for the rest.

However, there is possibly a bigger cloud on Denver’s horizon, namely, the city’s bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics. The day before I arrived, members of the United States Olympic Committee were here to meet with local officials to explore a Denver bid for the 2030 games.

Denver is the sole city to be awarded an Olympics only to turn down the opportunity. The 1976 Winter Games were held instead in Innsbruck, Austria.

The sanity behind the 1976 decision to decline the Games may not be in evidence this time, as city officials pursue the mirage of a privately-funded Games with strict environmental safeguards in order to circumvent the “Olympic curse” of massive cost overruns, touted economic benefits that fail to materialize, and environmental despoliation.

Denver’s officials are trying to buck historical experience where the Olympics are concerned. Even Sydney, deemed in 2000 to have held the most successful modern Olympic Games, is still struggling to complete the light-rail network due to have been completed in time for the 2000 Games.

For Denver’s sake, many hope the curse of the Olympics will find a way to descend on another city.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.