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Dear Visitors to Denver: Please Understand These 6 Things Before You Come Here

by Tim Wenger Jun 28, 2016

1. Denver may not be a surf spot, but the ‘locals only’ mentality is alive here.

The population of the Denver area is rapidly increasing, and those that have been here their whole lives aren’t always happy about it. Rent prices are skyrocketing and buying a home is getting harder to do. The traffic here is getting equally as bad- the term ‘Little L.A.’ is thrown around frequently these days. This is as much a reference to the amount of California expats flocking to Denver as it is an ode to the city’s notoriously clogged freeways.

Developers can’t build apartment buildings fast enough to keep up with the influx. The city is constantly under construction, causing delays on the roads and obstructing our precious mountain views. As a result, Denver natives are increasingly skeptical of Californians and Midwesterners- although most of the time we are too polite to say it to their face. Instead, you’ll see the slogan ‘No Vacancy’ stamped on the back of cars and the front of T-shirts.

2. Be prepared to wake up early.

Let me take a guess here- you plan to do some skiing, hiking, camping, or mountain biking while you’re in town. Don’t sit around over mimosas in the morning and still expect to find a parking space, let alone room on the trail. Denver is a major metropolitan area whose population and economy largely revolve around outdoor activities. Because of this, nearly everyone takes part and that clogs up I-70 as well as many of the trails that the highway provides access to. During ski season, you better be on the road by 6:30am if you want any shot at first chair. Planning to car camp on the weekend? Reserve your site in advance or be ready to drive at least a couple hours out of town, otherwise, you’ll be limping back to the Holiday Inn at midnight, tail between your legs.

3. Stroll the 16th St. Mall after dark and you’ll get a new perspective on our ‘Main Street.’

Despite the recent Urban Camping Ban, which has done nothing but attempt to hide the homeless epidemic in the city, the storefronts and sidewalks of the mall are popular spots for sleeping and busking. Legalization of marijuana has done nothing to help the issue, as the city now plays host to thousands of wandering vagrants drawn in because of the lax laws and easy accessibility to their drug of choice.

Enforcing the ban on people with nowhere else to go isn’t solving any of the problems, either. It essentially makes it a criminal offense to be homeless in the city and while shelters and other outreach programs are doing everything they can, many are simply pushed into the shadows- mental health and other needs completely ignored.

4. Gentrification is hitting the city with a bang.

While you’re here, you will likely hear talk of the burgeoning neighborhoods playing host to numerous restaurants, breweries, stadiums, and parks. But before Denver’s recent boom- kicked off by the construction of Coors Field and rapid development of Douglas County in the early 1990s- the neighborhoods now known as RiNo, Highland, and LoDo had different names and very different vibes.

Highland was known as the North Side, largely a Latino neighborhood. Over the years the area saw a good amount of mob activity. Stop in for a drink at the Berkeley Inn on Tennyson St. and you can still see bullet holes in the building. Before the streets were dotted with hi-rise luxury apartments and $15 sandwiches, they were home to generations of families, many of whom have been displaced and priced out of the area they have called home their entire lives. RiNo and LoDo didn’t have much of a name prior to Coors Field, as they were primarily warehouse districts bordering the historical Five Points neighborhood. Next time you’re enjoying a craft beer at one of the many breweries in the area, ask a local to tell you their family’s story- if you can find one.

5. Showing up with an East Coast attitude isn’t going to make you any friends.

Ever heard the term Masshole? It goes deeper than Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. Denverites and Coloradans, in general, are extremely laid back and typically non-confrontational. Excessive honking, yelling, and generally causing a scene in public will immediately label you as an outsider. People here are much more likely to be found sitting over a beer and trail map or planning the next weekend adventure than they are to be out looking for a bar fight.

For better or worse, Denverites are known for driving slow in the left lane. I will readily admit guilt on the topic. This is very representative of the relaxed culture here, and as the city keeps growing with people from larger metro areas, some residents are having a tough time feeling comfortable with the fast-paced rat race lifestyle that they bring with them. Many have said that Denver doesn’t feel like the same city they grew up in, and it isn’t hard to see why.

6. Marijuana is legal, and we did it first. But leave the Cheech and Chong jokes at home.

The business of cannabis is business as usual in Denver. It has been said that there are more dispensaries than Starbucks. While that may or may not be an exaggeration, there is an entire industry based on the plant here. Thousands of people are employed in the field, doing everything from growing and selling to cooking, extracting, and regulating. Even investing plays a part. Those in the industry take their job seriously and certainly do not want to be labeled as lazy stoners.

We do, however, take a lot of pride in being the first state to legalize and pioneer the regulation of recreational sales. The law passed largely because of the tax benefit for public schools. Everyone in the city has an opinion on the topic and most are glad to share it with visitors. Most also realize the impact that legalization has had on the city’s rapid economic growth- something worth taking into consideration next time the public schools in your town cry out for financial help.

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