Not so many years ago, people lived in Lakewood, Colo. and commuted to work in nearby Denver. These days, they’re just as likely to work, play and stay in Lakewood, which has become one of Colorado’s most attractive communities.
Lakewood, population 144,530, is among American cities that proactively planned how to manage inevitable growth. As a result, residents enjoy an outstanding quality of life in a dramatically beautiful location in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains – an amenity all by itself.
“We’re 10 minutes from downtown Denver and 10 minutes from the mountains,” says Lakewood Mayor Bob Murphy. “That’s something that attracts people, that proximity to both the mountains and the urban core.”
Great Schools, Amenities
When they get to Lakewood, people like what they find. The city ranked high in the 100 Best Places to Live rating for its outstanding educational options, including a highly ranked public school system and Red Rocks Community College. It also received good marks for its variety of popular amenities, which include great outdoor recreational opportunities, but also a rich cultural scene that is sophisticated and reflective of the city’s diverse population.
Lakewood has more than 7,000 acres of parks, trails and open space – 35 percent of its entire land area – including two parks that are 2,500 acres each. The city maintains four full-service recreation centers and a cultural center that offers arts education and includes a 300-seat Broadway-style theater where, in summer 2015 you could enjoy Latin music, a film about country star Glen Campbell, Indian dance and a production of Anything Goes. The Lakewood Heritage Center museum maintains a huge collection of artifacts and photographs that detail local and state history.
Light Rail, Belmar
One of Lakewood’s most important assets is the Regional Transportation District (RTD) light rail system that makes it possible to be in downtown Denver in minutes. Soon, a rail link to Denver International Airport will make travel even easier. As Murphy points out, “When you live in a place where it snows a lot, a multimodal transit system is a big amenity.”
Building a transit system was one big part of planning for Lakewood’s growth over the past several years, as was building a downtown center. The site of the aging regional Villa Italia Mall, Belmar is now a vibrant new urbanist center that encompasses 22 square city blocks containing residences, major shopping, and entertainment and dining options. More than 2,000 people live in Belmar, and 3,000 work there every day.
“Between the light rail line and Belmar, we’ve transformed into a place where more people come into Lakewood to work every day than leave to work every day,” Murphy says. “Given the recreational and cultural opportunities, our job growth and land-use planning, we have kind of ‘densified’ and become truly a place where people can live, work and play.”
Lakewood continues to plan for smart growth, welcoming new residents while maintaining the city’s traditional appeal. In 2011, it was named an All-America city, the only one to win a special citation for diversity that year.
“When you drive into Lakewood you see a sign that reads, ‘We are building an inclusive community,’” Murphy says. “The welcome mat is out for everyone here.”