than 50,000 people — including 15,000 journalists and 5,000 elected delegates — will be descending on the city of Denver in late August (8/25-28) to attend
the Democratic National Convention, at which Senator Barack Obama is expected to be formally nominated as the
party's candidate for U.S. President.
Denver officials see the event as an opportunity to showcase the
Colorado capital as a gateway to the New West.
Jenine White rides her bike to work a couple of times a week. That's one of the things she likes about Denver, which has nearly 1400 kilometers of bike paths.
Eight years ago White came for a job and stayed. "I like Denver because I like the outdoor community," she says. "I like what's available close to Denver: an hour from where I live I am in the mountains, and there are so many opportunities to fulfill my outdoor active lifestyle."
Like White, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper came to Colorado for a job. He says the decision to make Denver his home was an easy one.
"Denver is nestled right up next to one of the natural wonders of the world, the Colorado Rockies. [We have] 310 days of sunshine a year." The mayor often jokes that Denver is a place where people get up earlier on the weekends because there is so much to do.
Denver was born at the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River when prospectors discovered gold there in 1858. While the city has experienced boom-and-bust cycles in the mining and oil business ever since, Denverites today largely support themselves with jobs in government jobs or in energy, tourism, service or manufacturing.
The metropolitan area's population is expected to grow from 2.7 to 3.9 million people by 2030, which has Mayor Hickenlooper concerned. "If we are going to have all these people come, we need to make sure that we don't feel the congestion and strangle the very quality of life that brought these people in the first place," he says.
Congestion — and the pollution that often comes with it — have become major problems in Denver. Roger Singer is regional director of the Sierra Club, the nation's largest and oldest environmental group. From the gardens behind the Museum of Nature and Science, what appears to be a picture perfect blue-sky day, Singer says is also an "ozone action-alert day." People with respiratory problems are advised to stay indoors.
"After one o'clock this afternoon is about the time that the ozone could be building up here in the city," he says. Tailpipe exhaust and smokestack pollutants are largely responsible for Denver's ozone.
The city is taking a number of steps to address the problem, including the development of a climate action plan to reduce auto and industrial carbon emissions.
City officials have also put in place an energy conservation program aimed at making city buildings and homes more energy-efficient.
Residents voted to tax themselves to pay for a 200-kilometer light rail commuter transit system, an investment with a price tag of $4.7 billion dollars.
Throughout the city, and more widely across the so-called "Front Range" of Denver's metropolitan neighbors, Singer says residents are showing their determination to protect the environment. "The entire Front Range has signed a compact amongst the mayors," he says. "[More than 30 mayors] have agreed to work together to reduce our carbon footprint in this huge sprawling metropolitan area that is growing so quickly."
Meanwhile, the economy is booming. Downtown construction crews are working on multiple housing and office buildings simultaneously.
Fortunately, the construction cranes haven't scared away visitors. Denver welcomed 12.2 million visitors in 2007, making tourism the city's second largest business behind manufacturing. Erin Trapp, director of Denver's Office of Cultural Affairs, says people come here not only to enjoy the outdoors, but also to attend sports events, concerts and other arts events.
The city's cultural district has an art museum, library, Colorado history museum. It's also where you'll find city hall and Civic Center Park.
The Democratic National Convention, being held here from August 25-28, is expected to be the highest security event ever staged in the mile-high city.
As Mayor John Hickenlooper works with local, state and national law enforcement officials to ensure it is also the safest, he sees the event as a chance to showcase the "can-do" entrepreneurial spirit of the New West. "The west is not just about rugged individualists elbowing their way to the top," he says. "It is really about collaboration."
Mayor Hickenlooper hopes that visitors like what they see during the four-day Democratic National Convention enough to come back as tourists or to do business in the Colorado capital.