20 September 2005

Wash Park Is Not Ramah

It should be a surprise to no one that Washington Park, my neighborhood, is a place where a hundred pagans can gather in comfort without raising a single word of concern in the community, while rural Ramah (pronounced Ray-ma) reacts so negatively that the Mayor and City Council feel the need to apologize.

I could stop with this common place observation, but I won't. While Richard Florida's book, "The Rise of the Creative Class", isn't flawless, his core observation, which is that the secret to economic growth is a tolerant, culturally vibrant community, is dead on. Ramah is a ghost town (it doesn't even have a single business), and Denver is a boom town, to a great extent, because Denver is a place where people who are different, people with different ideas, are embraced, while Ramah is a place without room for people who rock the boat. The pagans' festival in my neighborhood doesn't directly drive economic growth in the city, any more than the gay man who used to cut my hair two blocks in the other direction does (I can't afford those kind of haircuts any more on a professor's salary). In both cases, you are seeing symptoms of a larger cultural environment, one that can embrace the new ideas that are the secret to economic growth.

When a place like LoDo becomes a cultural center for an entire metropolitan area, it is easy to forget how visionary people like now Mayor Hickenlooper had to be to see promise in it when it was the city's skid row and warehouse district. At the height of the preppy age, you had to be a visionary to see that someone might actually want to live in a partially finished loft without floor to ceiling walls and soffit covering the ductwork. It is easy to forget how hard it was to see that a town famous for its cowboy boots could also be an epicenter of a national Vespa scooter market. And, it is hard to imagine why a satellite television company might want to locate in Denver, rather than Colorado Springs which is home to the U.S. military's space command, until you sit in an interview room a hundred times trying to convince bright young telecommunications professionals to locate in a city better known for being the headquarters of Dobson's Focus on the Family organization, which incidentally is laying off dozens of employees . . . but that's another story, which Colorado Luis has already told well with all of the mixed messages of the larger story.

Indeed, Luis himself is a shining example of the benefits of the tolerant atmosphere that prevails in a place like Denver. While it would certainly be a breach of blog ethics to out him, having met him in real life and having some familiarity with the firm where he works, I know that some very strong personalities with exceedingly different strongly held views, and very different ethnic roots from Luis, co-exist quite well within his firm, and that isn't something that could happen successfully in every city. As a result, his firm, his clients and this city, benefits from his high level skills that might otherwise have gone elsewhere.

I used to practice in Grand Junction, Colorado, which, while vibrant for the Western Slope, is no Denver. And, as collegial as the members of the Mesa County Bar Association were, its members also spent a great deal of time concerned about their reputations in fields well outside the law would be affected by their actions, and my wife, who is not a white Anglo didn't feel comfortable raising our children there because the the overall atmosphere of the area, a feeling I concurred in. Take the decision my family made in Grand Junction, multiple it by a hundred thousand, if not million similar decisions made by other people who have the most valuable resource in our economy, talent, and it isn't hard to see why tolerant places become boomtowns, while intolerant ones slump.

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