24 March 2010

Denver's Infill Driven Growth Outpaces Suburbs

Once again, Denver proper is proving to be one of the healthiest cities in the nation and is in better shape than its suburban counterparts.

Denver's population spurt accelerated last year as it became the Front Range's growth-rate leader for the first time in decades . . . The populations of both Denver and El Paso counties rose above 600,000, with Denver maintaining a 6,000-person lead, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data released Tuesday. The census estimates showed that the city and county of Denver grew by 2.9 percent between July 2008 and July 2009 and now is home to 610,345 people. That's a faster pace than former poster children for growth Douglas and Weld counties. . . . Census records show that Denver has not been the fastest-growing county in the metro area since at least the early 1970s.

"Denver was always shrinking," said State Demographer Elizabeth Garner, who estimated that the consolidated city-county last surpassed the suburbs in growth during the 1950s or 1960s. Denver also ranked fourth in growth among the nation's 100largest counties. . . . She said the records also show a steady stream of new residents from California, especially Los Angeles County, and from surrounding Colorado counties such as Boulder. Denver had a net gain of 10,620 people in addition to an overall 6,776 increase in births minus deaths. During the decade's first half, Denver saw more people leave the city than move in, Garner said.

From here.

Looking behind the overall population growth number, Denver looks much better positioned than its neighbor to the South.

Growth in Colorado Springs pretty much comes down to a single factor. The military decided to close a lot of military bases and many of those bases were consolidated to the base locations in and around Colorado Springs. Heavy reliance on the decisions of a single federal government agency for your municipality's health isn't healthy, particularly when most of your local population wants to shrink the federal government and your Congressman is an impotent junior member of the minority party in the House of Representatives with a poor record for working across party lines.

Colorado Springs recently decided to make dramatic cuts in municipal services, such as shutting down the suicide prevention hotline, turning off a third of its street lights, deciding to let the grass in all of the municipal parks die, selling the police helicopter, and closing many of the city's recreation centers, rather than slightly increase its very low property taxes. This is hardly a good way to attract residents who aren't moving there as a result of a Department of Defense fiat.

Denver, in contrast, has a diversified, mixed public and private sector driven economy. It is the center of state government in Colorado, is home to regional headquarters for many federal government agencies, is a financial center, is a regional distribution center for goods, serves as a agricultural economy hub, continues to have some manufacturing employment, is home to multiple colleges and universities, is an entertainment hub, is a retail destination, and is a base of operations for many information technology, biotechnology and oil and gas firms. It isn't dependent, as it was at many times in the past, on isolated industry like interstate rail travel, gold mining, silver mining, oil production, cattle slaughtering, or tuberculosis treatment. Unlike its suburbs, Denver has more jobs than people, which serves it well as people are increasingly trying to reduce their commuting time and expense.

Indeed, in the reverse of the Colorado Springs development model, a significant share of Denver's growth is related to mostly private sector infill development in places that the Department of Defense vacated.

Also unlike Colorado Springs, Denver has managed to continue to upgrade its municipal services through resident support for modest tax increases, has managed to contain cuts to municipal services and is upgrading its transit capacity in projects like an upgrade of Union Station. Denver's leaders have managed to get its residents to believe that it is worth their money to invest in a city worth living in and that investment is produced positive results.

Denver's approach is also in stark contrast to that of neighboring Aurora shut down half of its libraries rather than slightly raise property taxes, cut other municipal services, has long had municipal services inferior to Denver, and has bet its transportation future on an underused toll road (E-470).


BSR said...

Thanks, Andrew. It's further confirmation (for my family, anyway) that our move from Colorado Springs to Denver three years ago was a good thing.

We might miss our friends and the beautiful setting at the base of Pikes Peak, but we don't miss the heavy military & religious bias. And now we won't miss the dark streets, brown parks, and slow police response that certainly will lead to further erosion of property values there.

Michael Malak said...

I am surprised at the high level of government services provided by Denver, especially given the amazingly low property taxes. I attribute it to low funding for public education and a high sales tax, both of which I approve of.