by Dennis Polhill

In 1940, the Denver Metro area had a population of 350,000. By 1990, it had grown to 1,900,000. This amounts to a compounded annual growth rate of 3.8%. If the Denver Metro area continues to grow at 3.8% per year, there will be a population of 4,000,000 in 2010; a population of 12,000,000 in 2040; and a population of 79,000,000 in 2090. If the growth rate declines to 2%, Denver’s population will be 2,800,000 in 2010; 5,100,000 in 2040; and 13,800,000 in 2090.

From 1980 to 1990, the Denver Metro area grew by 13.6 % or a 1.28 % compounded annual growth rate. From 1990 through 1994, Colorado’s population jumped by 11 % or 2.64 % per year. The US Census Bureau recently reported that Colorado’s growth rate of 2.9 % between July 1, 1992 and July 1, 1993 was 2.6 % . The Colorado State Demographer projects 1995 population growth to be 1.8 %.

Denver’s Economic Cycle
The last economic crash occurred in the early 1980s when oil and mining simultaneously collapsed. In the late 1980s, emigration was offset by births to yield zero population growth. When National Consumer Price Index (CPI) increases were 4 %, Colorado’s inflation was at zero for several years, motivated by a survival struggle of retail businesses. Economists agree that Denver “hit bottom” about 1988.

By 1990, it was clear that the economy was rapidly improving. Boom growth (defined as unsustainable and reflected by rapidly escalating rents, property values, employment, population, and retail sales) occurred in 1992 and 1993.

As Denver began to reach the top of the new peak, rates of growth diminished in 1994. At the end of 1994, U-Haul reported the 1 % more families had moved out than had moved into Colorado. Comparing the number of first mortgages recorded to the number 12 months earlier (to remove seasonal variations) showed a steady decline throughout 1994 (compared with 1993) with the final five months all showing negative growth and the final two months with significant negative growth (approximately 20%).

Entrepreneurial Capital
Colorado is positioned in time and in geography to become the entrepreneurial capital of the world. Some of the assets of Colorado are aerospace and defense technology, computer firms (IBM, HP, Apple), telecommunication firms, biotechnology firms, geography information systems and global positioning systems firms, an educated work force, and one of the highest new business start-up rates. The collective economic effect of these major assets should be enough to propel Colorado’s economy for the next several decades.

Realistic Planning Window
Looking back 100 years exposes the folly of attempting to plan 100 years into the future. The rapid pace that new technologies and the interaction that multiple paradigm shifts are impacting our lives is so significant that even a 50 year long range plan is impractical. It was only a decade ago that microcomputers and VCRs were becoming commonplace. Two decades ago it was photocopy machines. In the next decade, we will see the impacts of the information highway, interactive TV, holography, HDTV, genetically improved foods, new therapies to treat diseases, virtual offices, smart cards, wireless video transmitters, biodegradable plastics, E-money, voice recognition technology, electronic shopping, and explosion of economic wealth in far off parts of the world. The result will be a lifestyle of increased freedom and increased economic affluence for most people. How does all of this add up so as to yield a reasonable guess of what the world will look like in 20, 30, or 50 years? What are likely to be the burdens on and shape of the infrastructure?

Population Density
The conventional wisdom that the Denver Metro area population will be 3,000,000 in 2020 and 4,000,000 in 2045 is reasonable.

The population densities of today are the product of dramatic 20th century innovations in transportation and communication. Those who influence public policy appear generally of two opposing minds. One philosophy is that current densities are too low and public tax subsidies should be used to influence higher density. The other philosophy is that current densities are desirable and public tax subsidies should be used to facilitate more of the same. The result is a schizophrenic public policy that in one instance tries to encourage high density growth and in another instance tries to encourage low density growth, both via public tax subsidies. In some cases the same advocates insist on tax dollars to build light rail and in the same breath insist on more tax money for open space that makes light rail less viable. Is there any way to give these folks what they want when it seems that they themselves do not know what they want? Could it be that they want it both ways?

Development Fees
For over a decade the people have demanded more user fees. Policy makers have failed to comprehend the deep meaning of this demand. Aside from more and higher permit fees, plan review fees, photocopy fees, map sales fees, and the like, little has been done.
Colorado has 3,500,000 people living on 103,598 square miles for an overall density of 33.8 people per square mile. The six county Denver Metro area has a density of 411 people per square mile (12/29/94 Rocky Mountain News). Lakewood, representing what is typically perceived to be normal urban density, has about 130,000 people living on about 40 square miles or about 3250 people per square mile. On the average this density is 5 people per acre or 2 dwelling units per acre. Since most homes are on quarter acre lots, the difference is accounted for by park lands, schools, shopping centers, office buildings, rights of way for streets and utilities, and undeveloped parcels.

Undeveloped and underdeveloped parcels create a social cost in terms of public services. A vacant lot has access to a street, sidewalk, water line, sewer line, telephone line, electric line, gas line, drainage, and other facilities. The vacant lot does not experience the capital cost, the maintenance cost, or the operating cost of these facilities. Since the proportional costs are not recovered from the vacant lot, other taxpayers must make up the shortfall. Since it is impossible to enlarge facilities (telephone lines, streets, etc.) incrementally each time an infill lot is built on, the facilities must be sized and constructed under the assumption of full development. Until an area is fully developed, the balance of the community financially supports the undeveloped land. Until a pricing system is developed that fairly assigns construction and carrying costs of infrastructure to undeveloped and underdeveloped land, taxpayer dollars are being used to subsidize individual properties, to reduce density and to increase building on the suburban fringe. Properly assessed infrastructure costs not only would encourage infill development but fringe development would occur more completely and consistently. A barrier to such fees is that suburban cities are competing with each other for growth. Fair or unsubsidized pricing systems would tend to divert growth to other cities.

Similar subsidies occur when cities, counties, and utilities extend infrastructure at less than cost to new development. Every 2000 dwelling units constructed generates a need for one additional elementary school. If those 2000 homes do not bear the cost of the school, then all taxpayers must bear the cost collectively. But didn’t the pre-existing 2000 homes already pay for the pre-existing elementary school that they use? It is similarly true for fire stations, police stations, snow plows, sewage treatment plants, extra pavement lanes and thickness, traffic signals, libraries, telephone switching stations, electric transforming terminals, and so on. If the marginal costs of social facilities are assigned to new development through appropriate impact fees, the cost of development is higher and for a project to be viable the economics must shift. The end result of ending development subsidies is that urban densities will increase, housing costs will increase, much more infill development will occur; infrastructure will be used more efficiently, yielding economies to governments in their operating budgets, and lower property taxes.

Population Distribution in 2020
The disparity of densities serves to illustrate the inefficiency with which society elects to use its land and infrastructure resources. Typical suburban density is 3250 people per square mile. Yet, the six county Metro average density is 411. If the 6 county urban area was fully built up to typical suburban density (3250 people per square mile), them it could house over 14.5 million people. At city of Denver density (nearly 7000 people per square mile) over 31 million people could be housed.

Because it costs more to build taller buildings, the height of building reflects the value of the land on which it is built. Thus, planners have discovered that core city skylines tend to approximate 3 dimensional normal probability distributions.

Aberrations occur where cities are adjacent to rivers, lakes, oceans, mountains, major highways or other physical barriers. These distributions can be visualized as similar in shape to a World War I army helmet.

The removal of subsidies to fringe development would tend to normalize economic forces and elevate the value of land in the core city and developed suburbs. The army helmet would in effect be raised slightly. A 10% density increase by 2020 in the core city and developed suburbs could accommodate 150,000 people (15 % of expected population growth in Colorado).

The remaining additional 850,000 population growth can be accommodated by additional developed suburbs (about 240 square miles) or by increased density in the urban-rural fringe (from 160 to 360 people per square mile). The third option is that population will spill out beyond the boundary of the 6 county metro area. If the 850,000 fall into the three categories equally, developed suburbs will increase by nearly 80 square miles; the current suburban-rural fringe of about 160 people per square mile will consume 1800 square miles (1.7% of Colorado’s land.)

Air Quality
The “brown cloud” will continue to decrease. By 2010 deicing sand will be replaced by more expensive and environmentally neutral chemicals. By 2000, 2 % of automobiles will be electric powered. Other clean fuels (such as propane, compressed natural gas, and alcohol) already in use will become more popular. Catalytic converter technology will make even more significant impacts in auto emissions. The older autos that compose 10% of Denver’s 2,000,000 automobiles and generate about 60% of Denver’s bad air problem will be essentially retired by 2005. The development of hydrogen as a clean burning fuel source for automobiles will likely never reach the market as it will be unnecessary and ultimately yield to less expensive options.

Water Quantity
Colorado has ample water for domestic consumption through 2045. Market forces can be used to motivate wiser use of this valuable and limited resource. About 80% of the Denver Metro peak water consumption is used in lawn irrigation. With restricted supply and increased demand, price will increase. Lawn irrigation systems will have the incentive to be more efficient and lawns will get smaller. As water becomes more valuable and more expensive, society will be less willing to throw it away. Wastewater effluents will continue to be cleaner and secondary usage will increase, mostly for industrial and irrigation purposes.

Highway Transportation
Since densities will not change significantly (less than 20%), the local carrying capacity of the existing infrastructure is generally adequate through 2045. Most residential streets and parking areas can accommodate a 20% increase without any significant change to capacity, structure, or geometrics. Arterial streets and highways will have to be the focus of highway managers. About 80% of suburban arterioles can either accommodate a 20% increase as is, or with attention to “bottle necks” in the system (intersections, interchanges, bridges, tunnels, signal coordination, curb cuts, and parking configurations). Only 20% of suburban arterioles will require significant capacity increases in the form of lane additions. A somewhat greater capacity increase will be needed on core city arterioles.

Telecommuting will grow along with use of the information highway. More people will work at home, but more importantly, telecommuting will facilitate the evolution of “virtual offices” (people can work anywhere) and “flexplaces” (shared office space with personal lockers, some people will have several strategically located). Coupled with more flexible working parameters, such technologies will have significant impact on the need for infrastructure. Because people can travel during off-peak time, the underutilized off-peak highway capacity will be used more efficiently. When a highway has to be sized to accommodate an 8:00 am and 5:00 pin rush hour, it must be twice as big as it needs to be 80% of the time.

Rapid Transit
With a top speed of 55 miles per hour, light rail can never evolve to fill society’s need for rapid transit. Rapid transit is a train that travels from 100 to 200 miles per hour. It will evolve as a viable transportation alternative between population centers of medium range distance (60 to 200 miles). Rights of way should be reserved along interstate highways for future implementation of rapid transit. The route that will become economically viable first is Denver to Colorado Springs and Pueblo, followed shortly by Denver and Ft. Collins to Cheyenne. Commuters, shoppers, tourists, and sport fans will use it. The Denver – Colorado Springs trip would take 20 minutes. The train may be underground or elevated, may be in a tube, and may be magnetically levitated. Rapid Transit is not expected to become economically feasible before 2045.

Power Systems
Recent technology has been generally stagnant. Power plants using heat engine technology have been at practical maximum efficiency of about 30% for some time. By 2010 there will be new technological approaches in geothermal, wind power, propane, and natural gas. Super-thin films will make solar energy cost-competitive. Room temperature superconductors will reduce power-transmission losses. Cold fusion may even become a reality.

On the low tech side, deregulation of power utilities will foster price and service competition. One predictable result will be rate structures that charge less for power used off-peak demand. So folks who can program their computer to run their refrigerator or recharge the automobile at the right time will save money. Of course, power storage technology will continue to make giant leaps