Being an adult and living in the same home you grew up in is quite surreal. As I recently walked home one evening from a friend’s house that also grew up and stayed in Wheat Ridge, I surveyed my surroundings and noted everything that had changed or remained the same since my childhood.
Many homeowners on my street are the same as when I was a kid, which inevitably means that their children are grown and gone. While I find the same sense of security and adoration for my block, it’s hard to see how few young children are in the area these days.
Growing up, I often spent time out and about with neighborhood friends, adventuring along the greenbelt, playing sports or hide-and-seek, taking bike rides, and staying out until the streetlights came on or I heard my dad whistle. My best friend lived next door, and our neighborhood was filled with kids our age.
Most households on my street had children under 18 in the 1990s and early 2000s. I genuinely love where I live and am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to raise my children in a home where I had so many incredible and memorable experiences. It’s also heartbreaking that my sons cannot experience Wheat Ridge the way I did or share in some of my cherished childhood activities because we are one of a few homes with children for several blocks.
People that move here love where they live so much that they stay for the long haul. While I appreciate and also relate to choosing to remain and possibly never call another city home, the reality of our demographics has posed some challenges over the years. Namely, we do not have young children running the streets interacting with each other, and we also struggle to fill our neighborhood schools, meaning our community is an easy target for school closures when the Jeffco School Board needs to cut costs.
This conversation is likely to resurface soon.
According to Census data, from 2000 to 2010, Wheat Ridge had an 8.2 percent decrease in the total population; however, from 2010 to 2020, we recouped 7.4 percent growth. In 2000, our population under 18 was 21.2 percent, and our residents 65 and older made up 19 percent of our demographics.
The 2020 census indicated a population for under 18 at 17 percent, while the population for 65 and older rose to 20.3 percent. Jefferson County has the average most senior population in Colorado, and DRCOG projects that trend will continue into the foreseeable future.
With a lack of generational turnover, Wheat Ridge and the broader community will struggle to grow and maintain amenities like quality neighborhood schools, thus perpetuating a lack of young families and children choosing Wheat Ridge as home.
While some neighborhoods are currently experiencing turnover, the lack of children’s laughter in my area is deafening. I hope that the developments underway in our city and the diversifying businesses will attract young families and bring more children!
Leah Dozeman represents District IV on Wheat Ridge City Council.