There goes the neighborhood

The house above represents the first and best financial move Mitch and I ever made together. Though friends thought we were bold, urban pioneers 18 years ago when we moved to northwest Denver, perception belied reality. There has always been more Mayberry than mayhem in the Highlands.

Our house proves the adage, "location, location, location" except that the value of a location is mutable and often difficult to predict. Eighteen years ago, our neighborhood---tucked into the now-coveted 80211 zip code--offered charming older homes minutes from downtown, along with parks, libraries and great old-line Mexican and Italian restaurants.

The major retail strip, what we now call Highlands Square, featured a good coffee house, a pizza joint, an outstanding Mexican deli, a beauty school and a furniture store where you could purchase sofas emblazoned with Revolutionary War battle scenes. The houses here cost about half what people were paying in other close-in city neighborhoods.

At some point our neighborhood became hot. The furniture store left and Chipotle moved in. The seedy liquor store shuttered and a high-end wine store opened. In the space where I used to get a good $20 haircut, you can now buy a $400 pair of shoes. On any given night you can dine on French, New American, Brazilian, Thai, Vietnamese, BBQ, Cuban, Argentine, Italian, Locovore, Mexican and haute Mexican cuisines.

We don't tell people what we paid for our house anymore. Because it makes them want to cry.

The unfortunate piece to all this is the cost. We have friends who are looking to relocate in the neighborhood--people whose house has appreciated--that are having hard time finding something large enough that they can afford. They're not looking at mansions, either.

It saddens me that middle class families can hardly afford to live here. (We're grandfathered in--literally--otherwise we couldn't afford it.) I worry that the neighborhood will become more homogenous, less interesting, more manicured. Where would we go if we had to move?

How a neighborhood transforms from funky and bohemian to chic and prohibitive is a topic for sociologists and urban planners. The silver lining in the cumulous is that there are other undiscovered enclaves in the city with graceful homes, growing families and arching cottonwoods. Places where the perception has yet to catch up to the reality.

Comments (2) -

May 26. 2010 18:46


Crazy, isn't it? Highlands/Sloan's Lake was my second-choice neighborhood when I was house-hunting in the mid-'90s (second because I worked in the Tech Center) and I remember looking at a terrific rehabbed Denver Square on a double lot at $216K. If only I had begged, borrow and stolen to get it!

Kitt |

June 2. 2010 06:38


Ah yes.  I remember when Highland Square was as you described, how much it has changed.  Unfortunately, I will probably never be able to afford my old neighborhood again.

Caitlin |

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