Denver Stems Exodus to Suburbs With Urban Family Development

Denver Stems Exodus to Suburbs With Urban Family Development
Stapleton and projects like it paid off for Denver over the past decade and helped reverse an exodus to the suburbs. Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg

When Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood development opened in 2001 on a 4,700-acre site with retail stores and a quarter of the land dedicated to parks, families lined up before dawn for a chance at a lottery for the lots.

Stapleton and projects like it paid off for Denver over the past decade and helped reverse an exodus to the suburbs. Colorado’s most-populous city grew 6.9 percent to 600,158 residents between 2005 and 2010, after falling to 561,323 from 564,411 between 2001 and 2005, 2010 Census figures released this week show.

Sherry Kagan, a mother of two young children, said the allure of the urban development remains. In 2009, she and her husband bid on one of the 4,000 single-family houses in Stapleton, drawn by the large number of children playing in the complex.

“I took one look and said, ‘This is where we want to live,’” said Kagan, a transplant from southern Illinois.

New housing at Stapleton and another development at the former Lowry Air Force base “brought in a lot of young families to Denver,” said Colorado state demographer Elizabeth Garner who lives at Stapleton. “Prior to that, Denver tended to have an out-migration where families tended to move out to the suburbs.”

Douglas County

Another area Kagan considered when she moved from Illinois was Douglas County, south of Denver, which was the 10th fastest-growing county in the U.S. between 2000 and 2009. In the second half of the last decade, growth in Douglas slowed, according to census figures.

The county’s population grew to 246,058 from 197,344 between 2001 and 2005, with annual gains as high as 9.4 percent. By 2009, the rate of growth had declined to 2.5 percent, according to census data.

Even with the slowdown, Douglas County posted the biggest population gain in the state over the past decade, adding 109,699 residents, a 62.4 percent increase. Denver is both a city and a county.

“Douglas is booming,” Garner said. “It might have been slower during the second half of the decade, but it still has had an incredible amount of growth.”

Tech Boom

Douglas touts itself as a place to live between the population centers of Colorado Springs and Denver. Its fastest-growing municipality, Castle Rock, expanded by 138.5 percent over the past decade to 48,231 residents.

The county began to boom in the late 1990s, along with information-technology businesses, by offering a mix of luxury homes and affordable housing close to the Denver Tech Center, a business and economic hub in southeast Denver, said Richard Wobbekind, an economist at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Among the corporations with operations in Douglas County are Dish Network Corp., the second-biggest U.S. satellite-television provider; Sprint Nextel Corp.; Liberty Media Corp.; and Western Union Co.

Most of the population growth since 2000 in Douglas County occurred in the white, non-Hispanic category, which increased 54.3 percent to 243,297, census data show. The trend applied to the rest of Colorado as well, with the Hispanic population accounting for 303,000 of the state’s population gain of 728,000 between 2000 and 2010. Colorado’s overall population grew by 16.9 percent to 5,029,196 in the past decade.

Hispanic Population

The state’s Hispanic population grew 41.2 percent to more than 1 million people and now accounts for 20.7 percent of the total, up from 17.1 percent in 2000. Non-Hispanic whites grew 9.9 percent to 3.5 million and made up 70 percent of the population in 2010, down from 74.5 percent in 2000.

Denver County was displaced by El Paso County as the state’s largest, data released Feb. 23 show. El Paso, the home of Colorado Springs, grew 20.4 percent over the decade, rising from 516,929 to 622,263 people. Denver County grew 8.2 percent, rising from 554,636 to 600,158.

Denver was one of the few counties in the state to see an increase of white residents, from 51.9 percent of the total population in 2000 to 52.2 percent in 2010.

William Frey, a senior fellow and demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said the census data showed a jump of 7,000 people younger than 18 in Denver, including 2,150 who are non-Hispanic whites. Whites may be staying in Denver as they begin families rather than moving to the suburbs, as they have in the past, he said.

Future Success

“This took place at a time when most of the suburban counties were showing a decline in white people under 18,” Frey said. “Denver epitomizes the kind of cities that are likely to be successful in the future. It is attractive to young people, it has a connection to high tech, it is growing and it is a high-amenity area.”

Developments like Stapleton, now home to 12,000 people, are among the main reasons. Since the first residents stood in line to get their lottery numbers a decade ago, the community has grown at a pace that two new public elementary schools have been built and a third is under construction. Stapleton is also home to the Denver School of Science and Technology, a college prep school for grades 6-12.

“Once they got here, all hell broke loose,” said Tom Gleason, vice president of communications at Forest City Stapleton, the project’s developer. “The number of children here surprised everyone.”

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