Denver Still Less Densely Populated Than In 1950s, Despite Recent Population Boom

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Despite the very high numbers of people moving to Denver (and Colorado in general) in recent years, much of the city is apparently still less densely populated now than it was in 1950.

That interesting bit of information was the finding of a third-party study now being utilized as part of an ongoing citywide planning review “that’s aimed at resetting Denver’s course on several fronts” — particularly with regard to transportation and land use — according to the city’s chief planner, Brad Buchanan.

1950 is apparently when the city’s last streetcar line was shut down, it should be noted. It should probably also be realized that households in 1950 in Denver were, on average, home to more people than they are now.

The Denver Post provides more:

“The dynamic holds citywide: Denver’s overall population density stood at 9 people per acre in 2014 census estimates, not including the land occupied by Denver International Airport. Yet in 1950, a city researcher calculated, the city’s density was 9.8 residents per acre.

“Of course, Denver has grown in land area since then, from 66 square miles to 154 square miles, including DIA. The city’s Department of Community Planning and Development says a more apples-to-apples comparison — looking within only the 1950 boundaries — found a population density in 2014 of 9.9 residents per acre in that area, or roughly the same as 1950.”

What’s interesting, though, is that many Denver residents are apparently now complaining about the rapid densification of the city in recent years. So, what’s different between the situation in 1950 and the one now?

Well, obviously, the streetcars are gone. However, the city does have a bus and light-rail system now that’s in some ways comparable, and in some ways not.

Average household size has definitely shrunk, though, which means there’s a more pronounced effect on housing availability and costs (a major complaint, reportedly) stemming from higher population density than was the case in 1950.

Perhaps most notable, though, is the growth in car ownership (2 times the rate nowadays as in 1950) and in roadway and parking extent — and the attendant traffic congestion and air pollution.

Probably more than any other factor, extensive automobile use and traffic congestion can really make a city feel overcrowded and past the comfortable carrying limit. But how does one “roll back the clock” on personal vehicle ownership? (It’s notable that only around 7% of Denver residents use public transit for commuting.)

The aforementioned chief planner for the city, Brad Buchanan, commented: “The fact of the matter is, if we continue with the same development patterns that have happened in our city since 1950, we will continue to exacerbate the very conditions that appear to be causing frustration.”

Images via Denver Community Planning and Development

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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