Rundles Wrapup: Check Engine

Warning lights emerge statewide on the economic engines driving our economy at unprecedented speeds

A year ago or so my wife let me know that the "Check Engine" light was on in her car and wondered if I thought it was a problem. I write about cars, but I'm no mechanic, so I suggested we drop it off at our excellent mechanic just to be sure. When he called me I braced for some $300 problem, but there was no charge because the gas cap hadn't been secured, and that, as it turns out, causes the "Check Engine" light to illuminate. What a relief; something so simple, and yet it was wise to check with a professional.

A few months later, that pesky light came on again, and I went back to my expert. Unfortunately, this time was indeed a $300 problem that needed to be addressed – which I did, of course, because I wanted to avoid a $1,000 or worse problem down the road. They put these warning lights in cars for a reason: could be something minor or a harbinger or bigger issues ahead. The advice? If the "Check Engine" light comes on, get it checked out right away.

I think about those incidents as I look around Denver – and the whole state of Colorado generally – and I see warning lights coming on all over the place on the economic engines driving our economy at unprecedented speeds. When you listen to politicians, particularly the economic messages coming from the administration of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, and when you look around at all the investments in commercial and residential real estate, I at least get the distinct impression that the economic engines are humming along nicely and that the road ahead looks clear and traffic-free. 

But I wonder. 

I see warning lights. Could be a misplaced gas cap – a minor adjustment – or it could be imminent breakdown. My advice? Pull over, however briefly, and get it checked out.

I am especially curious, even bewildered, by the recent flap over the "Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014" sign placed on the Five Points neighborhood Ink Coffee House. Most everyone has quite rightly characterized it as insensitive, and the Ink corporate office has called it an inadvertent and ill-advised joke, but make no mistake: When they put that sign out there they did so with pride; they were boastfully taking some small measure of credit for cleaning up the 'hood, as it were.

That gentrification of such neighborhoods is highly detrimental to poor people and the historic character of the neighborhood is axiomatic, but look around. Every neighborhood in Denver – and many places around the state – is gentrifying at an alarming pace. Oh, there’s no question that we need truly affordable housing on an epic scale for the poor and underemployed throughout the region – and also no question that every single proposal to address the issue is woefully inadequate and underfunded, and will remain so. But it’s also true that this “housing poor” dynamic isn’t limited to the poor. The median price of a house in Boulder just crossed the $1 million mark, and that median price is rising alarmingly throughout Denver, the entire Front Range and the I-70 corridor. I’m not suggesting we need an “affordable housing” solution for the middle class, but I am warning that the “Check Engine” light is burning bright throughout the spectrum of real estate. Could be merely a gas cap, or it could be imminent breakdown.  

Another of the economic engines where the “Check Engine” light is in full amber is transportation, or more accurately, traffic. It has also become axiomatic that the traffic situation throughout the region is having a negative impact on the local quality of life. Add that to the housing-cost woes and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see a day in the not-so-distant future that the most welcome sight for many people will be the “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” sign in the rear-view mirror.

Rampant development and population growth have done wonders for the local tax base, the unemployment rate and even delivered some spectacular new amenities that have enhanced our quality of life around here. But it has also brought, indeed wrought, a myriad of problems. Not nearly enough of our citizenry is benefiting in any meaningful way, a growing number of people are joining the ranks of those not benefitting, and even those who are cashing in should be advised to see the wisdom of increasing the passenger-carrying capacities, and the efficiencies, of the vehicles of our economic engines.

The “Check Engine” light is on.

Categories: Industry Trends, Transportation