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The Greening Cow Town

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To get this blog off the ground I thought I'd post about something I've been musing on over the last year: how my beloved "cow town" is gradually manifesting greener pastures. I'm no sustainability expert, but in the eleven-plus years I've called Denver home, I've watched us undergo some significant paradigm shifts. These give me hope for humanity, and particularly for cities "out West" that don't especially like to be told how to live.

So here are my Top 10 Signs that Lifestyle Paradigms are Shifting Here in Denver. I'd love for any of you out there who work in sustainability or green technology to confirm or dispute my unscientific findings:

10. There is a seeming decrease of SUVs on the road. When I first moved here from California (sorry) in 1990, SUVs weren't the dominant presence they became a few years later. When I came back from grad school out East in '97, my Honda Civic was dwarfed by the behemoths; everyone drove an SUV but few had any clue how to navigate them. Felt like whenever I drove through the Speer/University intersection in winter, another pair of SUVs had collided on their way out of Whole Foods. But lately I can drive down Speer in my same trusty Honda in the company of Priuses, Mini Coopers, and reasonably sized sedans. Thank god for that year that gas went to four bucks a gallon, because I don't know what else would've stopped the SUV pox.

9. Related to that, I can't remember the last time I saw a stretch Hummer in LoDo. Hummers were all the obnoxious rage here in the 1990s. But maybe my not seeing them is a sign that I don't get out enough anymore.

8. More people are bringing their own bags to King Soopers. I know, I know: bags are a pretty measly indicator of how serious Americans are about sustainability. Americans will jump for just about any trend that looks fashionable on their arm. But, then again, as I've learned as I struggle to replace all my plastic with the compostable paper option and to bring my own bags for my grocery errands, changing ingrained habits is a sign of rising consciousness, and it's hard to do. Folks pulling it off has gotta count for something.

7. The Brown Cloud. Everyone talked about The Brown Cloud when I moved here. It was the shame of Denver, a source of mockery from other Coloradans, and it was pretty obvious a lot of the time. I had trouble being intimidated by it, being from the L.A. area, but it was a big deal. I don't know if I don't hear about it anymore because we've moved into total denial or what, but it doesn't seem as apocalyptic. Am I off here, or have we somehow reduced our emissions and industrial pollution enough to turn the cloud a lighter shade of beige?

6. Scooters. Let's face it: we became a Scooter town somewhere around Y2K. It started with young, retro cool-cats but now it's anything goes: young, old, fat, skinny, cool, dorky -- it doesn't matter. If you want to commute on less than $10 a month and put out fewer emissions than, um, passed gas, you get yourself a scooter.

5. Sustainable and local gourmet culture. You want delicious food grown locally and/or sustainably? A quick search on Yelp will pull up a dozen options. Take your pick: Duo, Vine Street Pub, Olivea, Root Down, Squeaky Bean--I'm just tickling the surface. Two clicks online and you can be sitting in a lovely dining room, listening to farmers tell you about how they grew the fresh squash blossoms you're eating, and how you can join their food cooperative. That's pretty badass.

4. Farmers markets all over town. Now watch out on this one, because all the stands may not be as local as you think, but it's a major start. It's getting hard to imagine life in Denver without the sweet juice of those Palisade peaches running down your chin in August.

3. Urban food gardening. Whether it's a membership with Denver Urban Gardens, a public school garden, a guerrilla veggie garden next to the sidewalk (as are cropping up all over my neighborhood in Whittier), or just some out-of-control patch of zucchini in the backyard, Denverites are growing their own food in unprecedented numbers. Did you read about the Colorado seed banks selling out early this year and having to restock? It's a good thing. Time to slice into that heirloom tomato I picked yesterday.

2. Denver Composts! I feel so darn lucky to be just inside one of the pilot areas of the new city composting program. I now compost all my food and yard waste, plus soiled paper. My girlfriend's mother comes over once a week to add hers to the bucket. I'm down to taking out the trash only about once every 2 weeks. Composting has the potential to be a windfall for the city, as it saves money on landfill fees and profits off the compost itself. So I'm crossing my fingers the program will be extended past the current March 2010 deadline.

1. We have a full-blown urban bike culture now. And I'm not talking about the avid road bikers who Ride the Rockies, though they're impressive. I'm talking about using bikes to get you around town as a part of ordinary life. I started commuting to DU for work a couple years ago, and between the new bike lanes, Bike Denver, the New Belgium Tour de Fat (like a gay pride parade for urban greenies), and the current cruiser cruising crowd, it seems like we're getting almost to a critical mass presence. I'm counting 20, 30 other commuters passing me just on my D6 route these days. I know what I'm saving on gas alone, so if you multiply that plus the emissions reductions plus the number of commuters? Well, I'm no genius but this has got to be a milestone.

I'm proud of these changes and, having navigated some of myself, am holding out a vision for an even more sustainable, cutting edge mountain West city in the coming years. To Denver, and our greener pastures!