Here in Arvada, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, the response to the grandeur of nature seems to be to diminish it, by making the Rocky Mountains just another backdrop for a low-scale wall of shopping centers, big-box stores and condo developments.
OBAMA's GOOD FOR BUSINESS
During a phone conversation last weekend, former St. George (Staten Island) neighbor Kevin Coffee told me his Lafayette, Colorado used bookstore, a recent start-up business located near Boulder, seems to be bucking the national retail downtrend, and for a surprising reason: the improbable election of America's first non-Caucasian president.
Sales had been sparse in the weeks following the Wall Street turmoil, Kevin told me. "And then," he said, "the day after Obama won, people just poured into the store, saying they had money to spend and wanted to spend it locally." Suddenly, Kevin's shoestring business was racking up $100, $200 and $300 days. Those unexpected windfalls will come in handy during the traditional retail doldrums of the two or three months ahead.
Kevin attributes the sudden upsurge in his business to his customers' feelings of hope and optimism. Those feelings, he's pretty sure, were generated by the election not just of a Democrat but of a new kind of Democrat––one uniquely qualified to speak for a new generation; one not wedded to ideology but inclined to practicality and pragmatism.
Hope and optimism could be short lived if the Obama administration fails to deliver on its campaign promises; delivers on some and not others; or is forced to delay large initiatives other than economic ones.
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IT'S DIFFERENT HERE
To native lower-middle-class New Yorker like me, Denver can seem like heaven. It's pretty, it's progressive, it's well managed, it works.
As in many American cities, the neighborhoods surrounding Denver's downtown have experienced a significant turnaround in the last generation, with an expanding population of young, well educated, high-earning residents. And, as is also typical, a dwindling number of the Mexicans, Colombians, Ecuadorians and Peruvians whose residential and business communities were clustered here.
Our son Evan and his family live in the large, beautifully detailed Victorian house shown at right, located in the Highlands section of the city, just west of downtown, across the shallow puddle that is the Platte River.
It's a walkable neighborhood, one of the few in Denver––or indeed anywhere else in the country at the moment––to have held its value despite the current economic downturn.
But much of the housing stock in Highlands, as in many other older Denver neighborhoods is--at least to this New Yorker--shockingly small, even tiny. Yet even these houses--many no more than 500-square-foot cubicles--fetch astronomical prices
Look at the scale of the squat brick building, bottom right, in the photo at left. The structure probably dates from the late 1940s to early 1950s, executed in a brutal utilitarian style that seems designed for cars though occupied by humans. Even in this market, even a very modest house in Highlands can fetch between $250,000 and $350,000
And now look at the group of three--a brick cottage, bottom left; a garage-type residential structure, bottom right; and a stucco apartment building in contemporary modernist style, middle background. Clustered at the southwest corner of 29th Avenue and Perry Street in Highlands, the three represent a slice of Denver residential building from the 1920s, the 1950s, and the first decade of the 21st century.
RIGHT NEXT DOOR, A CENTURY APART: At right, my son and daughter-in-law's house and, to its left, an absurdly modest early 1960's brick ranch house, almost Lilliputian by contrast.
We've toyed on and off with the idea of relocating to Denver, but we always come back to the same conclusion: Denver's most interesting residential architecture is in its downtown. But the smaller scale of Denver's more affordable near-downtown buildings is a deal-breaking drawback for people like us who retired early, to maximize our freedom if not our money.
I used to say we were going to move to Denver just so we wouldn't have to go there anymore. But not anymore.