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Colorado's economy is still a model for many states, but is quality of life suffering?

From the housing affordability crisis to pollution and traffic, the Colorado way of life has diminished for many
Posted: 6:03 PM, Aug 29, 2022
Updated: 2022-08-30 10:01:55-04
Colorado Weather

MORRISON, Colo. — Whether it’s visitors just in town for a few days of vacation, or someone moving to Colorado for the first time – our state gets no shortage of love.

But are we loving it to death?

“Humans, historically, always love places to death,” said climate expert Dr. Lauren Gifford

“I-70, it’s a nightmare in my opinion,” said outdoor rec expert Lincoln Davie.

“Quality of life is tough,” said social work expert Lisa Reyes Mason. “It’s hard to achieve that for a lot of folks right now.”

Colorado's economy is still a model for many states, but is quality of life suffering?

We decided to take the topic 360 by talking to experts who say it’s still a wonderful destination, but also warn of climate change, others who say inequities are a constant threat to the quality of life, and those who moved here and moved away because of what it’s become.

“We were here 40 years,” said Rich Gerber. “Quality of life, the school systems for the kids. (Sandy) spent 35 years with the City of Aurora.”

“Oh, I enjoy the outdoor life,” said Rich’s wife, Sandy. “It was great at the time.”

But, like many of their friends, they recently left Colorado and moved to the Phoenix area for warmer winters and a lower cost of living.

“We sold the house in 13 days,” Rich Gerber said. “Yeah, the market. It was time for a change.”

Then, there are those like Patti de Rozario.

“The people are nice, especially the ones that have been here forever,” de Rozario said.

She and her military husband bounced around the world for years, before settling here in Colorado about five years ago.

“Oh my gosh! Our house has appreciated I think 50%,” she said. “There’s something for everyone. The only thing we’re missing is a beach. I don’t think we’ll ever move.”

“Well, I live in Houston which is like – super city life,” said Patti’s friend, Genene. “Denver not being 120 degrees outside is great. Can we eat outside, can we play outside, can we have coffee outside?”

Gifford agrees – there are so many things that make Colorado attractive.

“There’s a lot of smart people,” Gifford said. “There’s a lot of smart women. There’s a lot of great food, things to do – we can be outside all the time.”

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But Gifford, an expert in climate policy – says climate change and increasing population do threaten quality of life in Colorado.

“So, like what we saw here in Louisville, where we had a mega-urban wildfire, where a thousand homes were lost,” she said. “It’s mind-boggling, it’s traumatic. There’s incredible lasting trauma here.”

“Do you feel we’re facing an impending implosion from climate change?” asked Denver7’s Russell Haythorn.

“I would say that 1,000 homes burned is already the implosion,” Gifford said.

She says there’s no way to solve climate change, but one glaring missed opportunity is a lack of funding for mass transit.

“There are ways to adapt to climate change,” Gifford said. “There are ways to be resilient to climate change, but we’re not solving it at this point. We really need to fund mass transit. You can’t take this train that was supposed to happen from Boulder to Denver because it doesn’t exist. We really need investments in infrastructure that aren’t centered around cars. “

On the recreation and tourism side of things:

“Over-tourism is certainly a massive area for us to consider,” said Lincoln Davie, outdoor rec and tourism expert at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Davie says it’s no wonder so many are attracted to Colorado and he uses himself as an example.

“I moved here in 2018 and I moved here from Montana,” Davie said. “And, oh boy, it’s a pretty busy state for my outdoor recreational activities.”

But he also views Colorado as the North American capital for outdoor rec and businesses with VF Corporation, Altera, Vail Resorts and others.

“We have so much of the industry that is flourishing in this space,” said Davie. “It’s a no-brainer to come to a place like Colorado to really engage deeply with the industry.”

Davie sees farming and ranching as the standard bearers in Colorado for conserving what we have.

“How do we engage in our Colorado landscapes? If we’re looking at a history lesson, if we’re looking at best practices – I think it’s really useful to look at our farmers and ranchers. Sure, we have a problem with overtourism, but that’s kind of a good problem to have if we’re going to engage in change. There’s a big system at play whether food and beverage or our lodging. We have to be thinking about sustainability at every level – and community engagement at every level.”

Of course, it’s not cheap to live and work in places where tourism thrives, like mountain towns. That has contributed to another quality-of-life crisis.

“I know from my experience ski patrolling in my late ’20s and early ‘30’s, it’s expensive,” Davie said. “And the wages haven’t kept up with the cost in local communities and it’s only gotten worse. What made that area special can become so commodified that it no longer holds relevance. That’s a huge area that we need to be very careful about moving forward.”

“These inequities, these crises are really happening in so many parts of the country,” said Lisa Reyes Mason, a social work expert at the University of Denver.

Reyes Mason is Filipina-American and has lived all over the world. She says quality of life is never experienced the same by any two people.

“The affordability crisis is really hard here,” she said. “In terms of housing, in terms of inflation happening. As a relative newcomer – the beauty is incredible, but who has access to that beauty? There’s a racial gap.”

And history contributes to these issues.

“There’s a history of red-lining that goes back 100 years in Denver,” said Reyes Mason. “Who has access to homes that are of higher value in greener neighborhoods? That impacts physical health and mental health.”

“We miss it here a lot,” said Gerber.

He and his wife left the state partially because of affordability issues, and so did some of their friends.

“Sure,” Gerber said. “We have friends who moved to Kentucky. It’s a tough market.”

But the Gerbers can also see themselves moving back as Colorado addresses these quality of life issues. “One day,” Gerber said. “When the market changes, we’ll be back.”

Editor's Note: Whether it’s access to trails due to overtourism, the state’s seemingly unattainable housing market, or the way climate change is changing how we live and recreate, we want Your Opinion. How has your quality of life changed since you first moved here? To comment on this , email us at 360@TheDenverChannel.com or use this form. See more 360 | In-Depth stories here.