The Future of Denver

The Mile High City is consistently hailed as one of the best places to live in the United States—and who are we to argue? But with an additional 1.5 million people expected to move to the Front Range by 2035, our treasured lifestyle may be at risk. We dug through reams of city-planning documents, talked to dozens of Coloradans, and put together a vision for the future of our city. Now, it's time to make this vision a reality.

December 2009

Get Smart

Why the Colorado Paradox must be addressed.

Coloradans rank third in college degrees per capita in the United States, yet we're among the bottom 10 states for K-12 spending. This is the Colorado Paradox: We're highly educated adults who seem to have little interest in educating our children.

The problem is that most of our citizens' education isn't homegrown. Many of those B.A.'s and graduate degrees belong to members of the non-native "creative class"—the innovators, thinkers, and doers—who've settled in Colorado, attracted by geography and lifestyle. "The biggest challenge we face is that a lot of cities have awakened to the ferocious battle for the creative class," says Henry Beer, a designer at CommArts Design Inc. "The holy grail is how well we attract and retain these people."

Beer sees education as the key. "Education is like infrastructure—like roads," he says. "Smart people move to someplace where the schools are good." And when the schools aren't succeeding—DPS, for example, only graduates about 50 percent of its students—we risk losing a lot of smart people to the suburbs and other states.

And we aren't just losing the brainiacs. Businesses are less likely to open branches or headquarters in areas that don't graduate highly skilled workers, and, down the road, we'll end up spending more on social services—such as jails or rehabilitation programs—for the uneducated. "When I talked to a former sheriff, he said the police department has a good idea of what crime is going to be in the future based on fifth-grade achievement levels," says James Mejia, the CEO of the Denver Preschool Program. "Paying for education is enlightened self-interest."