Muftic: Old-fashioned populism
Populism is a term we often hear these days to tag politicians we want to promote as caring about the middle class. The issues we used to call populism back years ago do not resemble the ones today.
When you drive through Denver, much of what Denver has become is the result of old-fashioned populism that cared about considering the needs of ordinary people. Now, consideration seems to mean loyalty to an ideology or a fixation on restoring either free market or single payer in health care insurance, getting a check in the win column of keeping campaign promises, or sticking finger in the eyes of the “establishment.” How about returning to the days of just making life easier for ordinary people?
Ironically, the one often tagged as the greatest promoter of populist issues, Donald Trump, seems bent on sabotaging his own self-defined populist campaign promises by supporting and celebrating GOP’s Congress’ health insurance bills that takes 15 to 22 million out of the insured ranks to give tax relief to the rich and insurance companies , and makes it harder re to repay student loans or for consumers to complain about unfair financial services practices.
Populism in Denver beginning in the 1970s was not just a revolt against the establishment, it was trying to reshape priorities and values that identified and addressed the needs of ordinary, everyday people. Government was not seen as a de facto enemy, but it was viewed as a potential ally. But government needed to change its ways, and so populists put pressure on changing government policies and demanding government get more involved, not less active.
Much of Denver’s populism then was shaped by consumer and neighborhood activists Among them were conducting surveys of grocery prices to show the poor paid more for lower quality food and were trapped in segregated neighborhoods because of lack of public transportation to be able to shop elsewhere. The tearing down of historic structures were fought and resulted in saving Union Station for future use as a multi modal transit system and a charming lower downtown. Mountain views, an asset unique to Denver, were protected by ordinance. Power companies switched from coal to gas and wind, and solar to help reduce the infamous choking brown cloud of air pollution.
New concepts of design, setbacks, streetscaping, store front openings to sidewalks, encouraging apartment living, were part of the “city is for people” movement in urban planning. Bike lanes and paths were developed. A park and ride transit bus system, and eventually our light rail system, was promoted and supported. Rail yards were turned into parks, and the former blighted area became a new baseball park, the Pepsi Center, an amusement park with a cleaned up and landscaped Cherry Creek and Platte River running through it. The airport was moved away from Park Hill neighborhoods and Denver International became the key economic generator. Denver Health became financially self sufficient thanks to the ability to get paid for their services via Medicaid and now Obamacare.
Did populism hurt economic growth? Thanks to a succession of mayors beginning with Federico Pena who supported the populist concepts, Denver is a thriving place, often listed as one of the best cities in which to live. Unemployment statewide is one of the lowest in the nation.
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