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How to Cope with Denver’s Rapid Growth is an Ongoing Battle

It's no surprise that last night's town hall involved a lot of back and forth between residents and officials on transportation, housing, economic inequality—and a potential Amazon headquarters.

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Colorado Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran hosted a town hall meeting in Denver Tuesday night to address one of the most urgent issues facing the state—rapid population growth. Duran, who estimates 250 people move to Colorado each day, assembled a panel of city officials and local leaders to discuss three topics in particular: transportation, housing, and economic inequality.

“Colorado has one of—if not the—strongest economy in America,” Durant said. “But we have to fix our overburdened and crumbling road and transportation networks…and our economic growth has driven up the cost of housing. We need to figure out how to make housing more attainable in Colorado.”

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Will Toor, director of transportation programs at Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, spoke to Duran’s concerns on transportation. “We need to focus on moving people, not just moving cars,” Toor said. He noted that—because of increasing traffic and deteriorating roadways— Denver must take efforts to make the city more walkable and bikeable for commuters. He also stressed the need for more state funding for public transportation—a sentiment that was echoed by Will Tone, a board member at the Lower Downtown Neighborhood Association, who noted, “We can’t pave our way out of congestion.” He advocated for expanded rail services in the city, as well as from Denver to Colorado Springs and Fort Collins.

Laura Brudzynski, a community development representative for the Denver Office of Economic Development, was among several panel members to address the rising cost of housing in Denver, which is worsening economic inequality in the city. “Our housing prices are skyrocketing,” she said. “And the gap between income and housing prices is growing larger.”

But when the meeting shifted to a question-and-answer session, the crowded audience brought forth another timely issue: Do we really want an Amazon headquarters in Denver?

“With 250 people moving to the city each day, why would the state of Colorado try to entice Amazon to move here and add to the population burden and the traffic burden, and increase the cost of living?” one audience member asked.

Brudzynski, who is working in conjunction with the Metro Denver Economic Development Council on a proposal for the Amazon headquarters, noted a bid from the Denver area is in progress, but could not offer specifics. But Michael Sapp, who works with the Mayor’s office as a neighborhood liaison, defended the proposal.

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“From the estimates we’ve seen, Amazon could bring 50,000 jobs to the area,” Sapp said. “With the number of folks who are moving here—whether they are baby boomers or millennials—we need to have the ability to provide work for folks who are living here or want to relocate here.”

Another audience member, an older gentleman, also expressed concern. “I am suffering, like other seniors, from the rising cost of housing,” he said. “And you’re going to bring in 50,000 new jobs from Amazon. What’s that going to do to housing?” he asked. Brudzynski noted that “any new commercial or residential construction will contribute to affordable housing” via an impact fee, as result of a city council bill passed in 2016.

But still others wondered to what extent Amazon would contribute funding for the city’s transportation infrastructure. And after some heated back-and-forth among the audience, Duran polled the room—by a show of hands—on how many people supported Amazon coming to Denver compared to those who are against the proposal. The room was evenly divided.

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