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What just passed Denver as the number one cool city for millennials?

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Headed to D.C.?
We're now number two! It was big, big news in November 2011 when the Denver metro area suddenly topped the list of the country's "cool cities."That was according to William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, who studied the numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey and determined that from 2008 through 2010, even as the hopes for a quick comeback from the recession faded, young adults between the ages of 25 and 34 were high on Denver...and proved it by coming here in record numbers.

"To the extent that they are moving at all," Frey said at the time, "young adults are headed to metro areas which are known to have a certain vibe -- college towns, high-tech centers and so-called 'cool cities.'"

And Denver, which had had ranked a mediocre twelfth in his previous survey, covering 2005 through 2007, was the coolest of them all, having added a chart-topping 10,429 people who fit in that desirable demographic during those years, making the city a true hipster heaven.

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The new hot spot for millennials.
Denver's bragging rights to the number-one ranking for the 25-to-34-year-old demographic have been constantly touted by business boosters over the past two years. Frey's 2011 study is cited at the top of the Metro Denver site pushing eco devo, and the Downtown Denver Partnership website still crows that "Denver is the number-one city for millennials." And in the wake of the November 2011 ranking, the DDP signed up with some other nonprofits to push Confluence Denver, a weekly online mag "about the people, ideas and innovators creating a world-class city desirable to the creative class" -- run by a company out of Detroit.

Well, it was fun while it lasted. Last week, the Census Bureau released the results of its latest American Community Survey, which covers the 51 largest metro areas from 2010 through 2012, and Washington, D.C., is now number one, having gained 12,583 young people during those years -- after losing a lot of ground in the depths of the recession. (It ranked 33rd in Frey's last survey.) Meanwhile, Denver held steady with its numbers -- which put it solidly in the number-two spot.

But at least we beat out that pesky Portland, which now ranks third -- a move up from sixth -- as well as Austin (fifth), both perennial competitors with Denver when it comes to craft beer and other hallmarks of cool.

"Number two is good," Frey says, offering us some consolation for losing the top slot. After all, he notes, millennials aren't moving much these days -- and when they do, it's usually from county to county, not across the country. "Young people's migration rates are as low as they've ever been," he adds, "even lower than last year."

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Denver's future look?
But even in the bad times, this city has done pretty well. "Denver also ranked high on attracting college graduates, as it did last time," says Frey. And many of those college grads still fit in that desirable younger demographic. "For young people, there's kind of a cool factor," he explains. "For a lot of these young people, if they're going to be underemployed somewhere, they'd rather go somewhere it will be comfortable to live."

And there's still more good news from Frey: The Denver area also came in fifth for attracting seniors -- those 55 and over. Which means this city might want to start planning for a booming business in hip replacements, rather than hipsters.

More from the Calhoun: Wake Up Call archive: "From hip to zip: Fifteen things hipsters have ruined."

Have a tip? Send it to patricia.calhoun@westword.com.


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