Denver’s Missed Opportunity
Nate Ragolia

Dear Mr. Ragolia,

I read your piece on Medium and, while I found it interesting, take issue with a number of things you mentioned. See below.

In regards to your pronounced love affair with Mayor Robert Speer, while he helped create a lot of the Denver we love and brought events (1908 DNC) and attention to the city, you must realize how different the era was when Speer ruled Denver. He was a powerful man, who often utilized questionable, strong-arm tactics to accomplish what he did. While the wonderful civic infrastructure is lovely and enjoyed by residents now, his tactics and lack of community involvement wouldn't be tolerated now.

Further, you say Denver hasn't rediscovered its way since. Really? In regards to public outdoor space, what about the work that has been done to restore the Platte River, the creation of the Cherry Creek Trail, Confluence, and Riverfront parks? What about the ongoing work to further expand the parks along the Platte to the South and North of the city? In regards to events, do you not recall that Denver successfully hosted the 2008 DNC? What about Denver hosting the Biennial of the Americas? Small oversights I guess on your part.

In regards to the real estate boom and increasing rents and housing values, that’s what happens in cities that are desirable, that people want to live, work, and play in. Show me a city that is desirable, world class, and filled with amenities, great weather, and great people that is cheap to live in. Sure, pricing is a bit out of whack, but it is due to a variety of reasons you don’t mention. Maybe it’s because Denver didn’t build enough apartments over the last 10 years, we’re coming out of an incredible housing crisis, lending is tougher to get, defect legislation is being reviewed, people aren’t selling properties, and there isn’t enough volume on the market. The spirit of the West is alive and well in Denver. People are moving here in high numbers because they can create a new life and career, because the economy is good, because it has a pleasant, 4-season climate, and because it is rich in outdoor amenities.

Affordable housing is an issue in the city. However, it’s an issue in any successful city in the United States (and Europe too). It’s a large-scale American issue, where we overly rely on the free market economy to cure things for all. While an increased volume of rental and for sale properties hitting the market will slow down price increases, it will also take changes in policy (local, state, & federal level) as well as more of society chipping in to bring about additional affordable housing. You may want to conduct some research though on the great things that the Denver Housing Authority and Colorado Coalition for the Homeless (as well as others) have done and are doing to provide high quality affordable housing to our residents.

Near-downtown neighborhoods lacking in creativity, Denver becoming a failed commuter metropolis, packed with discontented and alienated citizens? There seems to be an abundance of creativity downtown and in the surrounding neighborhoods. Have you visited the River North neighborhood? It’s filled with artists, craftsmen, local restaurants, breweries, etc. How about Santa Fe Arts District and the Golden Triangle? Both are filled with artists, small galleries, and large-scale institutions. What about the creativity and excitement unfolding on Colfax and Broadway? What about the tremendous success of the Denver Art Museum, Clyfford Still Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, History Colorado Center, Natural History Museum, Kirkland Museum, Botanic Gardens, etc.? Further, the populace hardly seems discontent. Walking around neighborhoods, seeing the establishments packed, and talking with residents illustrates people enjoy their city. I do recognize though that there are a number of residents and NIMBYs in developing neighborhoods who have an unrealistic understanding of what a great city is. It is always changing, dense, filled with people, amenities, energy, and yes, traffic.

New York, London, Paris, and Amsterdam are great cities. They’re also incredibly expensive cities with affordability and several other issues. I love them all but let’s not put them on a pedestal. And yes, they are dense, diverse, creative, and have great public transportation. Denver is investing tremendously in urban infill, place-making, arts, and events. Look at all of the civic, commercial, and residential development that has taken or is taking place. Look at the amazing amount of local restaurants, breweries, shops opening up. Look at the restoration of Union Station as not only a transportation hub but as Denver’s new living room. And, look at the billions of dollars being invested in light and commuter rail, a massive bus terminal, the Downtown Circulator, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, US 36, and updated roadways. We’re making one of the largest commitments to multi-modal transportation in the country. Lastly, don’t forget we’re the only city in the U.S. to close its previous airport and build a new one that connects us to an amazing array of domestic and international destinations.

Economically speaking, over the past 30+ years, Denver, the metropolitan region, and the state have worked tremendously hard on creating a diverse, well-rounded, and sustainable economy to prevent busts from happening after booms. And, while we have lured large companies to move their headquarters here or open up large-scale offices, we have also lured a number of small startups too. Further, our city has created a large, talented, and successful startup scene of its own. These companies/ventures span a myriad of industries, not just the oil and gas industry which dominated the economy in the 70s and 80s. The city has been able to create one of the most successful economies in the country and weather the recent economic downturn quite well, because of the following:

· Spirit of collaboration with the metropolitan region and state

· The strong working relationships between the public and private sectors, educational institutions, and its citizens

· The incredibly talented and educated workforce (locals and transplants)

Finally, demanding foresight from officials, forward thinking transportation, affordable housing, authenticity, and more are all things Denver residents should do. They should push for Denver to be even better. However, it is essential that we remember, discuss, and promote all of the wonderful things the city has already accomplished or is currently accomplishing. Denver is a great city, and its western spirit is alive and well.

Tim Cusick Jr

Native, Uptown Resident, City Enthusiast, & World Traveler

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