Chapter 7
Rebounding in the
Mountain West: Denver
and the Strategy for
Matching Suburban
Growth Rates and
Sustaining Job Levels
in a Downtown Area
7.1 Introduction
While part of the growing West of the United States, Denver shares some of the
same challenges that confront central cities in the Midwest and East. In 1950, 67.9
percent of the region’s population lived in the City of Denver. By 2010, the citys
600,158 residents accounted for less than a quarter of the regions population. Just
like central cities in other parts of the United States, Denver has become a smaller
proportion of its region. It has a smaller demographic footprint, and its leaders are
rightly concerned that its smaller scale could lead it to have insucient tax revenues
to sustain levels of urban services.
234Reversing Urban Decline
What makes a study of Denver so important, however, is not that it is a western
city facing some of the same challenges that have confronted former industrial cen-
ters in other parts of the country. What is important to understand is the strategy
the city implemented that has allowed it to establish a population growth trajec-
tory that now matches the rate of expansion taking place in the regions suburban
areas. Simply put, the population of Denver is increasing at a rate that matches
the regions growth rate. at level of growth exceeds what is taking place in most
other central cities compared to population growth in their respective regions. e
suburban areas of the Indianapolis region, while still having fewer residents than
does the consolidated city-county, are enjoying far more robust levels of growth.
e same observation could be made with regard to Columbus and its suburban
counties. Yet Denver’s population growth rate is similar to what is taking place in
its suburban counties. How did Denver achieve this level of success?
Despite its smaller number of residents, Denver’s focus on redeveloping its down-
town area anchored by higher-density residences, several sports complexes, numer-
ous theatres, and a convention center has allowed it to maintain its centrality and
prominence, as the region has grown to be home to almost 2.9 million people. e
Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation expects the region to have as
many as 3 million residents by 2015. If that goal were achieved, Denver’s anticipated
651,000 residents would account for approximately 22 percent of the regions popu-
e population in Denver increased by 28.3 percent from 1990 to 2010. In
the suburban areas, the growth rate was 28.5 percent. While the population bases
are dramatically dierent—far more people live in the suburban areas—few if any
central cities have enjoyed a growth rate that matches that found in suburban parts
of a region. How that was accomplished is the subject of this chapter.
From 1950 to 1980 the suburban areas in the Denver metropolitan area enjoyed
a 377-percent increase in the number of people who lived outside of the central
city. At the same time, the number of residents in Denver increased by only 18.9
percent. In addition, in the 1970s, as will be discussed, state laws were changed that
in eect eliminated the possibility of the City of Denver (which is also a county)
to expand its territorial boundaries. Denver was thus precluded from annexing any
additional land to ensure new neighborhoods could be created or that real estate
developers could have the option of building new commercial or retail properties in
the central city that would be able to enhance the tax base. Despite extraordinary
growth in the suburbs and the restrictions placed on Denver’s ability to change its
boundaries, from 1990 to 2010 the populations growth rate (in percentage terms)
in both the suburbs and Denver was virtually identical. Critics could argue, of
course, that after decades of substantial growth the suburban areas were reaching
a saturation point that made it impossible to continue to match the growth rates
that were achieved before 1980. Some of the suburban areas were either partially
or mostly built out, meaning vacant land was less plentiful (or more expensive). As
a result, new residential development was less attractive. ose observations, while
valid, obscure Denvers accomplishments. It is those achievements that fashion or

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