Before moving to New York City, I never realized how mid-WESTERN Denver actually is. I find it insulting when tourists come waddling through in their “western gear” cowboy boots, cowboy hats, and wrangler jeans. Only the real farmers and equestrians wear boots, and the cowboy hat is a rarity even then. I know because I grew up riding (English even, not western). However, it is true that there are “wide open spaces.” I don’t need a compass because where ever you are the mountains can always be seen from the west. In the city (New York City) I know east from west and south from north because of the grid system. Denver has a grid system, but no grid system is like Manhattan’s. The mountains are just so much easier to pinpoint.
You need a car to get around Denver. You’d be crazy, or very low income to only ride the bus. It is terribly ineffective and slow. This means a lot of time is unfortunately spent alone in the car. Counteracting that, there is a very large bike population. This is not to be confused with the hipster (fixed gear) bike movement, even though we have that too. A lot of people bike to get around, as we have make bike lanes around the city. This goes hand in hand with the largely focused outdoor culture of Denver. Right in the heart of downtown Denver is Cherry Creek, a manmade creek that runs from Cherry Creek Reservoir throughout the city (inconveniently it separates sections of the city forcing traffic through awkward traffic congestion over bridges and if you’re smart short cut side streets) nestled in Confluence park (it is called confluence because this is the spot where Cherry Creek and the Platte River meet), bordering REI and REI’s rock climbing walls. I think this is what makes Denver so charming. It a perfect example of how Denver interacts as a community.
REI is the main attraction only at first. People roller blade, bike, walk, run, and even kayak to this spot. It is where we all congregate. You bump into someone tubing down the stream, or laugh with someone also watching it carry someone away. The warm sun (that statistically proven to shine three hundred days a year) radiates, and you bask in it eyes closed, hearing the sounds of the stream and people around it. All social boundaries are dropped. You can and will talk to anyone. It is not awkward. You smile at everyone you make eye contact with, and they smile back. You walk up the ramp past REI to Little Raven Street to get a iced coffee drink at the trendy coffee shop called Paris on the Platte, or grab a snack at the local health food chain Vitamin Cottage, only to quickly retire back by the side of the water.
Unfortunately this culture largely is seasonally affected, and for those who are not inclined to winter sports (which is about half), the sense of community collapses once it breaks November. This is when Denver gets old, and it is stuck in the safety from the cold in the car. For those who brave the weather, the interaction continues, and for those who choose to hibernate indoors (consciously or unconsciously) choose to alienate themselves from the culture. The outside crown will switch to skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, hot springs lounging, sledding, tubing, ice skating, snowman building, cross country skiing, and hiking.
Outside the public spaces, the major residential areas are separated from stores, entertainment, restaurants, etc. These spaces are on major boulevards and off highway exits (I-25). The outdoor life is what makes this bearable. The counter cultures like the large gay culture (night clubs, Cheeseman Park, restaurants, shops, etc.), the alternative/new-agey crowd (vintage shops, local designer and artist shops and galleries, first Friday art walk (blocks of galleries down Sante Fe Street) etc. and the young adults (who hang out at coffee shops, go to concerts, art openings, etc.) keep the town from going stagnant in its dull landscape of boring avenue and boulevards of chain stores and restaurants. This is the strong culture radiating out from the people of Denver. It is not a subtle retaliation towards big company domination. There is a proud culture of that stance. That is what makes Denver.
Sent by Gabrielle from Denver, CO