A great city is largely judged by its downtown. Think Chicago, New York, San Antonio and Boulder. All are destinations full of great restaurants, sights and sounds, crowds, stores and attractive amenities.
They're places that attract the kind of young, well-educated professionals a local economy needs to grow and create good jobs.
For today's top model of success, look only an hour up the road to Denver. Since 2000, the downtown population has grown 142 percent. Businesses are relocating from other big cities and setting up shop in downtown and lower downtown Denver - places of vacant warehouses only two decades ago. The city's center bustles with great restaurants, clubs, theater, art and sporting events, as explained in a Denver Post story Sunday that merely stated what any visitor can easily observe.
What isn't apparent to the untrained eye is a little fact few people would expect: Denver is the No. 1 destination for the millennial generation, which includes everyone born between 1981 and 2000. It is this generation of young and emerging adults who are key to economic success. Millennials, probably more than others, will determine how well our economy can care for a large generation of baby boomers that has started to slow down and retire.
The No. 1 designation wasn't determined by some travel magazine that surveyed readers. It was revealed by the Bookings Institution, a Washington-based public policy institute that specializes in social sciences and metropolitan governance, which used numbers provided by the United States Census Bureau's American Communities Survey.
"Research shows these individuals are looking for great transit, walkability, sporting events and inclusive environments," said Tami Door, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership, as quoted in the Post.
No slowdown is in sight. More than $630 million in downtown projects were built last year, adding 2.2 million in commercial and residential space in only one year. Of 26 projects under construction, 15 are residential. The number of residential units under construction exceeds the total number of units available in downtown Denver just six years ago. Urban success stories don't get better than this.
All the new and looming downtown development has Denver going from big-city to mega-city stature. Today, city leaders in San Francisco, New York and Chicago have no choice but to observe Denver for tips on attracting up-and-coming generations of well-educated, competent professionals and workers.
The success of downtown Denver should be viewed as nothing but great fortune and opportunity for Colorado Springs. Community leaders here are poised to clear the way for more downtown housing and retail that could create a secondary Front Range downtown phenomenon at the base of Pikes Peak - only an hour south of Denver. State transportation officials are on the verge of reconnecting the downtowns of Denver and Colorado Springs with a fleet of modern buses that would run up and down an ever-widening I-25 corridor. The community may soon begin serious consideration of a multiuse downtown sporting complex, an Olympics museum, an improved Air Force Academy visitors center and a sports medicine facility at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs - the state's fastest-growing campus.
Colorado Springs is not Denver and the Front Range does not want or need another megalopolis of nearly 3 million people. But the Springs is a large city of a half-million people, in Colorado's most populous county, uniquely set among some of the most breathtaking beauty in North America. With nearby access to mountain trails, waterfalls, caves and a world class resort, downtown Colorado Springs offers amenities with which Denver cannot compete.
Given a few upscale condos and a major supermarket, downtown Colorado Springs will attract residents and employers who want easy access to Denver while enjoying a less-chaotic urban environment nestled among nature's most enviable features.
Colorado Springs and Denver are fortunate to have each other as neighbors. The synergy is strong and can only improve as Colorado Springs continues adding unique attractions and improving its commercial core to complement Denver's staggering success.