Why I Am Leaving Denver

My wife and I are planning a family move in 2018, relocating from Denver to Cleveland.  There’s no one thing that’s pushing or pulling us, really.  Many things aligned to make this a good time to consider a move.

There’s lot of great stuff happening in Denver, and it’s a neat place to be.  When I talk to people in other parts of the country, they often say “Oh, you’re lucky! I’d love to live out there.”  Intentionally giving it up seems odd.  Since people have been asking, I decided to provide some more detail why I’m ready to leave Denver.  (Why Cleveland? See here.)

It’s Expensive

It’s not San Francisco expensive, or San Diego expensive, or NYC expensive, but it’s a spendy place to live now.  Our current neighborhood is near the great little Tennyson Street bar/restaurant/commercial district.  The burger joint has fine fare such as the French Onion Burger, the Conquistador, and the Duchess of Maui.  Works of art, and they’re super delicious.  They’re also priced at $12 to $14.   That’s JUST the burger, without fries.  If you want fries, add $4.  While it’s possible to pay less than this for a burger, this kind of restaurant pricing is REALLY common here now.

The median home price as of April 2017 was $487,974  [1].  Our home has increased in value by almost 50% in five years.  The cost to rent a home in Denver has increased as rapidly.  The household income needed to support a life in Denver is rising quickly, and it’s on its way to pricing out a lot of its creatives, artists, musicians.  Unless wages rise with the cost of living (they aren’t) it will either top out, or become a city populated mainly by those who are independently wealthy.

We own our house plus a small rental property, so all of this has been in our favor.  Recently though, we decided that we need a slightly bigger space for our family.  (Our current house has one bathroom.)  We can’t afford a larger house in our current neighborhood, so we were planning to put on an addition at our current home.  However, since construction is booming and real estate prices are high, construction costs are also high.  Our neighbors are reporting prices of $200-$250 per sqft to add on to their homes, so our modest addition of 800 sqft would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $160k-$200k.  For us, that means another substantial mortgage on top of the one we already have.

Comparing this to San Diego or Seattle, it’s not alarming.  But looking at other lovely-but-less-popular cities such as Cleveland, we’re reminded that a family can buy an entire home, well-maintained, in a good neighborhood that’s increasing in value, for the price of our addition.  One wonders if we’re being smart with our money.

It’s Already Cool

I’m not anti-trendy, or at I try not to be knee-jerky about it, but when something is really popular I tend to view it through a pretty critical lens.  I often focus on the flaws, and I compare it to all the other amazing-but-not-popular alternatives and the grand injustice of it all.  I get caught up in how things change when they’re popular; how motivations change and how people benefit in different ways, and how different people get interested.  For better or worse, it’s just my nature I suppose.

Denver is a popular place to be, and people are moving here in droves.  Colorado was the 7th fastest growing state in the US last year [2] and most of those people are moving to cities along the front range.  I’m starting to see Denver through the “trendy” lens.

Forests vs. Mountains

Like a lot of people in Colorado, I really enjoy the outdoors.  My family makes time — several times a year — to get out into the wildlands of Colorado, to camp and hike and drive to remote places and see the natural wonders of our state.  We love it.

However, the places that make Colorado really unique… the big mountains, the ski resorts, the remote wilderness areas… I enjoy them when I’m there but I don’t really seek them out.  They’re not critical to my outdoor ethos.  I need forests, but I don’t really need mountains in the same way.  The activities I love most of all are hiking and camping, and there are loads of beautiful places to do those things.

Water Matters

While this isn’t a major factor in my decision, it’s been on my mind lately.  Denver has a dry climate, and getting a garden or lawn to grow and flourish there takes real work.  Most of Denver’s water originates high in the Rocky Mountains, and falls as snow each year.  It seems a limitless bounty flowing magically down to the city each year, but it requires a complex series of agreements and tunnels to draw water from seven watersheds (some of which are piped from the other side of the continental divide) to keep the taps flowing in our expanding city.

To the east, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas are irreversibly draining the High Plains (Ogallala) aquifer [3].  When that water is no longer available, a huge section of the high plains is going to be vastly different.  Most of the farming methods and economic ecosystems in that area simply won’t work, and subsistence will wither in many rural areas.  Denver isn’t in the middle of that, but it’s right next door.  As I learned in my time with Engineers Without Borders, water is everything when you don’t have it.

A New Adventure

The other factor feeding all of this, is the desire to do something new.  I’ve been in the Denver area since 1998, so next year that makes 20 years here.  Though I spent much of my youth in Texas, I was born here in Colorado.  I love the area, but I am now feeling the urge to go an explore a new piece of the world.  This is another element of my personality that just shows up now and then, and I try to listen.  I’ve had a good go of it, here.

None of this is to say that I am unhappy in Denver.  I really do like it here, and we will miss our friends terribly.  This move is really a perfect combination of: a) some minor reservations about Denver, b) some really great things about Cleveland, and c) some work and family circumstances that made it easy to make a move in the next 12 months.  Onward!

If you’d like to learn more about why Cleveland is great, see my companion post “Why I’m Moving to Cleveland.”


[1] http://www.denverpost.com/2017/05/04/metro-denvers-average-home-sale-price-april-2017/
[2] https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2016/cb16-214.html
[3] http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/08/vanishing-midwest-ogallala-aquifer-drought/

Denver At Night Photo: Matt Wright via Wikimedia
Other Denver Montage Photos: Hogs555 via WikiMedia