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Rundles Wrap-Up: For Promised Joy

Denveright plan encompasses a host of ambitious measures to address transit, development, parks and more


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Denver officials recently outlined a series of new city plans covering the next 20 years to address such challenges as transit, development, parks and recreation and a host of other more minute details to help keep Denver a vibrant American city. Broadly called "Denveright," the plans encompass a host of ambitious – and expensive – measures that may or may not keep Denver on track for future success. After 45 years of living here, the only thing I can say for sure is that no matter what we plan and do, every five years or so, there will be another plan with another catchy name, and expectations will change.

Leaders and planners are right to do this, of course, as we simply can't let the future unfold without some sort of plan, despite the clear evidence that what actually happens often has little to do with such planning. As the Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote:

"The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry, and leave us nothing but grief and pain, for promised joy!"

But I was much more interested in the population statistics and projections released as part of the report and what it means not only for Denver but also for many other places in America. The City and County of Denver recently surpassed the 700,000 residents threshold, and that number is expected to near 900,000 by the year 2040. When I first came here in 1973, fewer than 500,000 called Denver home, and all these numbers don't take into account that the metropolitan statistical area (MSA), including Denver, has doubled in the last 45 years to some 3 million people, and who knows how many by 2040.

The problem is that 700,000 residents is already too many for Denver, and 900,000 is unfathomable. The congestion around here is awful, and no matter what the powers that be do on transit, it will only get worse. And congestion has led to high cost, particularly for housing and soon on taxes, and the country at large is witnessing the "grief and pain" over such high costs on both coasts and in major cities. You can't "scheme" your way out of frustration and unaffordability.

Frankly, I don't think Denver and many other areas in the country will sustain the kind of growth and a version of the status quo for much longer. People, I predict, are going to start voting with their feet by moving away from such areas in a seismic shift that we haven't seen since the people of rural America started migrating to the cities, the coasts and the South beginning a century ago and continuing to this day.

Pretty soon, I believe, people are going to say enough is enough and begin the migration back to smaller towns and rural America. And just as important, businesses (and jobs) will lead them. After all, congestion, high costs and high taxes also affect businesses, and out there in the hinterlands, land and development are cheaper and taxes less burdensome.

Can you say "quality of life?"

In these days of internet everything, many jobs in the country, and especially future jobs, won't require a central location for offices. Working remotely will take on a new meaning, with "remote" being a geographical reality rather than simple "from home." I can envision a day in the not-too-distant future when high-tech companies and manufacturers alike will quit their campus environments and centralization efforts to adopt a more decentralized model with more and smaller locations, where workers and their families will find a better quality of life that is more affordable and less stressful.

I also believe that the federal government will begin a decentralization effort as well, moving many of its cabinet departments out across the country for all the same quality of life, affordability and sustainable reasons; indeed, the Trump administration is already talking about such efforts.

I can’t help thinking of all of the things in the Denveright plans – more transit, more density, more costs and higher taxes – and how they won’t meet the expectation of making Denver more livable. “For promised joy!” might actually have the opposite effect and just drive people away.

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Jeff Rundles

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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