The Speed of Destruction and “Progress”

Posted on April 6, 2018

The Speed of Destruction and “Progress”

As I write this, I sit surrounded by the hum of economic activity. In the lot on the south side, a 1950 style house is being torn down and to the north, a new townhome project is under construction. I live in an area of Denver in transition. It is impossible to find a block in my neighborhood where older houses aren’t being demolished for larger more modern homes, duplexes, and townhomes.

Some of these houses have seen better days, others (like the one that existed in the lot south of us until today) was a perfectly good brick home with a big backyard and large front porch. The lot where the remnants of this home now stand will quickly transform into six or seven townhomes. As with all change, I feel mixed about this “progress.”

On a positive note, increasing the number of homes in Denver is a good thing. We are in a terrible housing crisis and increasing the number of housing units help people find homes in our crazy market. Most homes don’t spend more than a day or two on the market before a sold sign goes above it. Townhomes and duplexes (so you get the right picture, the cheapest townhome on my block now goes for $750,000!) are more energy efficient, and with a growing population, our cool artist street gets excellent new restaurants and bars. So, progress is good.

But we lose something with every house like that one (I just checked) that no longer exists to the south. The history of this area has always been in flux with different groups calling it home over the last several decades. Once a somewhat affordable area with easy access to downtown now boasts an average rent of around $2,500 a month. With this “progress” minorities and working-class folks move out. The lucky ones (homeowners) might make several hundred thousand in the move, while the renters are pushed out with little to show.

Gentrification is an odd process to watch unfold outside your window. We are losing our diversity not just of race but class. My neighborhood (and so much of Denver) is white, progressive professionals. In my neighborhood and many like them in Denver, “Make America Great Again” hats are about as rare as those living in poverty or those whose English isn’t perfect. The crime rate is low, the creativity is high, the food and beer are fantastic, the progressive views about pretty much everything is nice, and our property’s increasing value puts a smile on my face. Yet, who are we as a city or country when everyone feels, looks, and thinks a specific way?

Traveling around the country, I know some areas would love to experience even a fraction of Denver’s prosperity and growth. Even in this amazing town with our mountain views, legalized pot, amazing microbreweries, distilleries, and close to perfect weather, I’m afraid we are losing something – even in our “artist district” as those, who do not fit a particular income level, are forced out economically. Is it prosperity if it only looks and thinks a specific way? Or, like the house next door that is no longer there, do we destroy the things that make us a community when we all start to look, think, and live in places that all look the same.

2 responses to “The Speed of Destruction and “Progress””

  1. Sara says:

    The thing that bothers me most about Denver is that wages do not match housing. My oldest son just moved to Denver a few months ago from Kansas City because he had always wanted to be in Colorado. He took a huge pay cut because it’s an employers’ market in Denver. He bought a condo for $150,000 that is going to need huge amounts of work and considers he got a bargain. When I was young, we were told your mortgage should be 25% of your monthly net. Then they increased that to 30% and now it’s not unusual for it to be 50%. What kind of quality of life do you have at those prices?

    I know quite a few people in Denver, through my families, who are lower SES and they survive by putting two or three families into one home. Then they deal with the stress that results from too many people living in too small an area. It makes for a vicious circle of trauma and stress, which we then see reflected in schools particularly.There are no easy answers or simple solutions.

    I love Colorado and used to consider moving there, but after watching my son go through this process for the past six months, I have decided that I will stay in Kansas. I like to drive, so I can go to the mountains or to the city, but I don’t have to worry every month if I will have enough to eat and pay my mortgage, both. Kansas has more than its share of poverty and issues, and I’m totally out of step politically, but I can make a living here!

    • Matthew Bennett says:

      Too common of a story right now. I thought thing were bad in 200 when I made the move from Indiana, but things have just gotten worse. I hear the same things around the country in areas that offer a mix of opportunity, creativity, and a high quality of life. But do any of these exist when they are only available to a fortunate few?

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