So about year ago, I wrote a blog about my feelings on leaving my old neighborhood and embarking on home ownership in a new part of town. I had kind of forgotten that it was pretty well-received among my fellow Denverites until a friend of mine reposted it on facebook, and I recalled that it was a pretty intense time in a number of ways. First, it was a farewell to a corner of the city I’d lived in for nearly a decade. Second, it was a goodbye to renting and all the complex elements that tenanthood involves. But more than anything, it was a goodbye to that part of my life, when it made sense to live amid the heady mix of high and low that Capitol Hill life entailed. And it’s actually strange to imagine that it’s been only a year since I wrote that post, because I’ve almost never seen anything change as much in a year as Denver has in this past one.
I don’t like being so affected by change. It makes me feel old. I try, I swear, I really do try to evaluate every averse feeling I have toward the city’s growth spurt by asking myself, “Am I upset because of a real reason, or because something I’m nostalgic about is gone or different now?” Because if the answer is the latter, I understand that I am in danger of Grampa-Simpsonesque rhapsodizing on the olden days, when I wore an onion on my belt and lived in a $575/month one-bedroom in Governor’s Park. But I sometimes find that the answer actually is the former. It sometimes turns out that I’m upset because I fundamentally don’t like the way the city is dealing with its current insane level of growth. I have some real problems with the way things are changing, here and all over the country. Rich people decided they wanted to live in cities again, and their exodus to urban centers is manifesting itself in some shitty ways.
It’s all the weirder because I’m a homeowner now. I’m in the process, a year after embarking on this most American of dreams, of refinancing the house I just bought, and part of that process is hoping that the price someone will pay for this place is sufficiently inflated now that I “win” and no longer have to pay mortgage insurance. Somewhere down the road, we’ll probably sell this place, and as the logic goes, it will sell for more than what we paid. The four-plex next door is for sale, and there’s a good chance someone will buy it, raze it, and build something that the current tenants can’t afford. It wouldn’t be profitable to do otherwise. Whatever the new thing is will probably bring my property values up. But you know what? I am not super excited for that. Because I love hearing my Guatemalan neighbors cackle over their telenovelas, through the open windows. I love the little girl next door who keeps asking me when my wildflowers are going to bloom. I love my neighbor’s little dogs who came running to us the first time it was warm enough this spring to sit on the porch. They missed us. I missed them. I don’t want the changes in this town to make it so we can’t be neighbors with these people any more.
Denver, as a city, has always had a bit of an identity crisis, and it’s been more pronounced as of late. Don’t get me wrong… I love a good bikeshare, and the new ramen restaurants are fantastic. But I realized on my recent trip to New Orleans that there are really two types of American cities: Those that truly have a sense of self, and those that seem to grasp endlessly at the defining characteristics of other cities instead of cultivating their own. And Denver, with its amnesiac enthusiasm for the promises of every economic boom (Silver! Oil! Real Estate! Marijuana! This time it will last forever!) and its palimpsest-like approach to urban design and planning (1952: Let’s doze everything and build parking lots! 1963: Viaducts, that’s the ticket! 2014: What if we just make it so every new house looks like it’s made of Lego?), is one of those cities that tends to pave over much of what it could claim as its own identity, in favor of what is new and exciting. So what’s my point? My point is that many of the now-gone places and things I get nostalgic for in Denver probably replaced something someone else was sad to see go. I’ve realized that mourning such things is usually misspent heartbreak. Especially in a Western city where more than 60% of the population was born somewhere else. They bring those places with them when they come, for better or for worse.
But there remains the problem of how these changes are felt on levels other than the misplaced nostalgia as I near my 10th anniversary of Denver residency. There are people I know who are seriously struggling. Considerations for traffic, infrastructure, water use or seemingly anything more long-term than accommodating the influx of new residents with pricey new condos, are not being made. My only hope is that Denver will realize that a city is only truly great when it can be great for a lot of different kinds of people, instead of just an elite class of rich transplants. I just hope that wages for baristas and bartenders and dishwashers will be raised so that the people who make all the cool new stuff in Denver possible are actually able to live close to it and enjoy it, too. In the ten years I’ve lived in Denver, I’ve grown and learned quite a lot. But if Denver’s history is any indicator, through each boom and bust, growth and learning are two very different processes.