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Should Denver Host the Olympics? 30 August 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado.
Tags: , , ,

Denver, as you may know, holds the ignominious distinction of being the only city, ever, to turn down the Olympics.  True story. After receiving the nod from the IOC in 1972, for the ’76 games, the state  turned out en masse to reject the idea, on the grounds that Coloradans’ tax dollars were best spent on… well, nothing at all for the most part. If however Gov. Hickenlooper and Denver mayor Michael Hancock arrive at a decision to pursue another Olympics bid—and the Denver Post is reporting they might— the city and state may receive another chance, and a shot at redemption.

Although I unabashedly support the idea of world-harmonizing sporting events coming to my city, an unscientific perusal of the comments on the article and its complementary appearance on the Post’s Facebook feed seems to suggest that Coloradans still really, really hate the Olympics. This in turn strikes me as shortsighted or curmudgeonly, and more likely, both, since the Olympics haters largely contend that 1)we can’t afford a to waste money on infrastructure for the games and that 2)hosting the Olympics in Denver might incite more people to move to the state.

Now, if you’ve never lived in Colorado, or if you’ve experienced life in a brain-drain state in particular, (2) is a real head scratcher, but Coloradans, like Montanans and Idahoans I gather, maintain the curious mentality that whoever arrives here last needs to close the door behind him. When these old timers or their forebears arrived, Colorado greeted them in its most perfect manifestation, an unspoilt state where man and beast alike could roam free. Then, the story goes, everyone else showed up and it all went to hell. That’s the narrative as essentially every curmudgeonly Coloradan tells it: Colorado was a great place when I first showed up, but then they kept letting all the other folks in, so now it’s a disaster. Also, the illegals.

That this line of argument appears in concert with “The Olympics will be a waste of money” only makes it more troubling, and more accurately, intellectually dishonest. By and large, the Front Range attracts a crowd of college-educated, highly skilled workers, who come for the outdoor lifestyle and, circularly, the large crowd of college-educated, highly skilled workers. It’s this exact pattern of growth that nearly every metropolitan area in the country seeks to emulate, and it’s exactly the sort of growth the Olympics could drive as the games place Denver in the global spotlight, yet where that vast majority of localities would see enormous opportunity, the curmudgeons would have us build a wall.

It’s true that the Olympics have extracted humongous tolls from their host cities—Montreal is still paying off more than two billion in debt—but the costs and benefits of an undertaking lie not only with the actuaries’ tables and tabulations. As a city on the cusp of nationwide importance, Denver can make the most of global exposure to begin weaving the complex web of business and cultural connections that bring so much life (and economic activity) to places like San Francisco, Seattle and Atlanta. If, as every mayoral hopeful seems to suggest, we want Denver to become a world-class city, we must demonstrate that it is capable of a world-class undertaking. The Pro Cycling Challenge represented a start, certainly, yet is a long trek from here to 2022, so while Denver can absolutely make the journey, the question remains, are Coloradans on board?


1. Colleen Patterson - 3 September 2011

I’ll let you know how it works out in London…

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