Metropolitan Denver: Growth and Change in the Mile High City

Metropolitan Denver: Growth and Change in the Mile High City

by Andrew R. Goetz, E. Eric Boschmann


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Nestled between the Rocky Mountains to the west and the High Plains to the east, Denver, Colorado, is nicknamed the Mile High City because its official elevation is exactly one mile above sea level. Over the past ten years, it has also been one of the country's fastest-growing metropolitan areas. In Denver's early days, its geographic proximity to the mineral-rich mountains attracted miners, and gold and silver booms and busts played a large role in its economic success. Today, its central location—between the west and east coasts and between major cities of the Midwest—makes it a key node for the distribution of goods and services as well as an optimal site for federal agencies and telecommunications companies.

In Metropolitan Denver, Andrew R. Goetz and E. Eric Boschmann show how the city evolved from its origins as a mining town into a cosmopolitan metropolis. They chart the foundations of Denver's recent economic development—from mining and agriculture to energy, defense, and technology—and examine the challenges engendered by a postwar population explosion that led to increasing income inequality and rapid growth in the number of Latino residents. Highlighting the risks and rewards of regional collaboration in municipal governance, Goetz and Boschmann recount public works projects such as the construction of the Denver International Airport and explore the smart growth movement that shifted development from postwar low-density, automobile-based, suburban and exurban sprawl to higher-density, mixed use, transit-oriented urban centers.

Because of its proximity to the mountains and generally sunny weather, Denver has a reputation as a very active, outdoor-oriented city and a desirable place to live and work. Metropolitan Denver reveals the purposeful civic decisions made regarding tourism, downtown urban revitalization, and cultural-led economic development that make the city a destination.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812250459
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
Publication date: 09/06/2018
Series: Metropolitan Portraits
Pages: 248
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Andrew R. Goetz is Professor in the Department of Geography and the Environment at the University of Denver. E. Eric Boschmann is Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and the Environment at the University of Denver.

Read an Excerpt


Perhaps no city symbolizes the American West more than Denver, Colorado. It was founded in 1858 during the Pikes Peak gold rush, and its origins and early growth were tied to mining, railroads, agriculture, and cattle ranching. It has grown in step with the growth of the West from frontier outpost to major metropolis, driven by an economic base in the energy, defense, aerospace, government, telecommunications, information technology, medical, tourism, and recreation industries. Its proximity and orientation to the Rocky Mountains has provided Denver with its essential identity as the Mile High City, where the blending of Old West imagery and New West reality is on full display.

As we contemplated our approach to creating a portrait of metropolitan Denver in this book, the themes of growth and change emerged as the dominant story line. While growth and change are evident for virtually all metropolitan areas, they are especially relevant for Denver, with its history of extreme boom-and-bust cycles, including its current major boom. Grappling with growth and its challenges are an ever-present concern, and the lessons of Denver's experiences have significance for other cities that are faced with extreme growth pressures. The purpose of this book, therefore, is to capture an image of contemporary Denver through its interrelated human, social, economic, and physical landscapes and to provide a geographic perspective on growth and change in the Mile High City.

Among large urban places in the United States, Denver has been one of the top three fastest growing from 2010 to 2016. For cities over 500,000 in population, Denver's rate of growth trails only Austin and Seattle. For metropolitan areas over 2.5 million, only Houston and Dallas had faster growth. And for combined statistical areas over 3 million, Houston, Orlando, and Denver were the fastest growing. Denver has become a destination of choice for millennials, consistently ranking as one of the top metro areas for in-migration among eighteen- to thirty-four-year-olds. Outdoor recreation, especially skiing, snowboarding, camping, hiking, and rafting, are major attractions, in addition to a vibrant arts and music scene, a thriving microbrewing industry, and the recent legalization and growth of the recreational marijuana business.

The current wave of growth has created significant challenges, especially affordability, equity, mobility, and sustainability. The rapid influx of population has increased demand for housing, but supply has not kept pace, leading to sharply increased prices for houses and apartments. Demand for housing in the city of Denver has resulted in neighborhood gentrification and displacement of lower-income residents who can no longer afford the higher rents or property taxes. Increased population has led to more traffic congestion and demands for improved transportation infrastructure. Expanding urbanization has contributed to urban sprawl and increased pressure on resource consumption and impacts on the natural environment. Denver is trying to address some of these concerns through a smart growth strategy emphasizing the development of higher-density pedestrian- and biking-oriented urban centers served by an expanding rail transit system. While some progress has been achieved, many of the growth challenges still remain.

We hope that this exploration of Denver's past and contemporary identity sheds new light on what the poet Walt Whitman first described as "this curiously attractive region."

Table of Contents


Introduction. From "Queen City of the Plains" to the "Mile High City"
Chapter 1. Physical Landscape and Natural Surroundings
Chapter 2. Historical Development
Chapter 3. Demographics and Culture
Chapter 4. Image and Place Making
Chapter 5. Political Landscapes
Chapter 6. Sustainable Futures
Conclusion. The Next Frontier


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