01 April 2006

A Decade In Colorado

I came to Colorado ten years ago, starting my first job in the state ten years ago today. Many people come to Colorado because they want to live in Colorado. My own decision was more neutral. I didn't ski, didn't mountain bike (a big attraction of Grand Junction, where I started), didn't snow shoe, and generally preferred a nice of fine dining and a play to a night under the stars. While I actually have distant relatives in both Denver and Akron, Colorado (and a few other hamlets as well), I didn't know it when I decided to take a job here. I needed a job (having been laid off from my first real job after two weeks as a result of a major client's corporate merger), I had seen a classified ad from a law school alumn and Colorado didn't have any strong negative connotations (I'm not sure that I could have convinced my wife to move to Alabama, for example).

Buffalo, New York, which I left to come here, had lost half of its population, while doubling its supply of lawyers in the last few decades. Colorado, in contrast, was economically booming, and had a less saturated market for attorneys.

A little more than six years ago (after a year getting to know the area in an apartment), I move to Washington Park. Grand Junction was a place where you could swiftly become a big fish in a small pond, and practicing law there is very collegial, but, the city also tends to be close minded, lacks cultural amenities, and necessitates a life style that involves crossing the mountains to Denver to do everything from flying to visit relatives to buying a decent suit or reasonably priced car, to participating in the bar association, to watching a foreign film. It wasn't a city where I felt comfortable raising a family.

The neighborhood offered easy access to a wonderful park with a recreation center, a decent elementary school within walking distance, and one of the state's better malls minutes away, easy access to downtown Denver's amenities. The bus system is workable here. It has the structural elements that are driving people are seeking in the "New Urbanism" movement. It has walkable sidewalks on tree lined streets full of people out walking the neighborhood, heading to the park, or walking their dogs. People park their in front of their homes before walking into the house through the front door allowing you to interact with them, rather than gliding into their garages and disappearing, as they do in the suburbs. Instead of having distant houses surrounded by large yards that are never used, each house has a small yard, just big enough for a garden, a pet to play in, a barbeque, a kid's birthday party, or a snowman, while holding in common a large park that is both heavily used and is somebody's else's responsiblity to maintain. There are coffee shops, bars, pizza places, hair salons and convenience stores within walking distance, and soon, we will have our own light rail stop. One way streets facilitate rapid commutes towards downtown and there is also quick access to the freeway, but the side streets are relatively tranquil. Unlike a newer subdivision, you don't have to suffer the innane restrictions of a typical home owner's association.

Over time you do get to know your neighbors, but it doesn't come with the same kind of social pressure that you get in the suburbs. At Christmas Time, on our street, you'll see a lit tree in someone's living room through an open window, or neutral lights hung on eves, not massive pagentry with plastic figurines and a light show that belongs in its own theater. Our street has at least one lesbian couple, many single people (some of whom are single parents), older couples with grown children, and a few other families with young children like ours. The urban ethic of privacy is real in our neighborhood.

While there are large houses in the neighborhood, there are also many small ones like our own. Armoires are a popular furniture item because the houses weren't build with enough closet space. Dispensing with unnecessary junk isn't just a virtue, it is a necessity in places with limited square footage. The houses don't have parlors that no one uses, or other waste spaces. Each street is a string of jewels, for the most part lovingly maintained inside, with little well tended gardens to greet everyone else on the street.

The result is a timeless, healthy neighborhood that strikes a healthy balance between downtown living and suburban living. Colorado is still thriving, and I decade later I'm glad to live here.


Anonymous said...

I understand that there are a lot of advantages to Urban Living, but lately there is a tendency for Urbanites to get kinda arrogant about how superior their arrangement is. Please don't fall into that trap.

Yes, there are a lot of advantages to Urban Living, for those who have the finances to afford a $500,000 900 Sq. ft bungalo that hasn't had any work done to it in 50 years.

I live in Evergreen and I could extol the virtues of Evergreen living in such a way as to make it seem superior:

1) I live in a beautiful foothills setting, surrounded by trees. I have Elk that visit my property regularly. I hear Coyotes at night. I live with nature, not some glorified city park.

2) I know my neighbors, and speak to them regularly and help each other out when we need assistance. But with large lots, I don't feel like I'm sitting right on top of them and I'm not bothered if they play music loudly or have parties at night. It's easier to have good relations with your neighbors when you're not on top of each other.

3)I have quick reliable public transportation to Downtown Denver, so I don't have to waste energy commuting.

4) I'm surrounded by wonderful parks, trails, open spaces, etc. I have two great recreation centers closeby.

5) I'm unhindered by Air Quality and can use by woodstove year round to reduce my dependence on fossil fuels.

6)It's so quiet at night. No car sounds, no traffic sounds.

bottom line, if everyone moved from the suburbs to "Wash Park", the quality of your living experience wouldn't be so great.

Anonymous said...

that was beautiful. You're at your best when you write about what you love, the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

I have read a few of your candid, well informed, and most of all honest commentaries. I am ready to escape the suburbs. It is wonderful to have open spaces, trees, rec centers, and so on. It is not so nice when you are of a different ethnic group than Caucasian/European. This specific setting has been covertly hostile to my mixes race family. I am inspired by your freedom of expression, and looking forward to giving up imperialistic living for a real down to earth, humble, and passionate way of life.