Date of Award

Spring 2017

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Kurk Dorsey

Second Advisor

Lucy E Salyer

Third Advisor

J. William Harris


This dissertation studies the causes and effects of rapid and uncoordinated suburban growth in metropolitan Denver, Colorado after the Second World War. The region experienced sprawling, low-density residential development on its periphery despite a powerful wave of anti-growth sentiment and that swept the state in the sixties and seventies. This study argues that this resulted from the difficulties experienced by Coloradans in reconciling a number of their cherished ethics: individual freedom and the sanctity of property rights versus a nascent environmentalism, fervent pursuit of wealth and economic opportunity versus an enduring celebration of the state’s traditional ranching heritage and rural character, and a preference for local control versus a desire for more comprehensive regional solutions to the problems of growth.

The pace and type of suburban growth and development in metropolitan Denver emerged neither from intentional strategies nor a dominant development ethos. Instead, decades of indecisiveness and inaction at the state and county levels subjected the Denver metropolitan area to exogenous forces that filled the void. Outside corporate real estate developers privatized much of the process of the state’s suburban growth by acquiring large plots of ranchland in unincorporated areas, creating and controlling an unprecedented number of governmental entities called “special districts” to provide infrastructure and public services to their developments, and designing and building enormous communities that were cities in all but name. These “invisible suburbs” overwhelmed county, regional, and state efforts to integrate these new communities seamlessly into the metropolitan area. Privatized development carried socioeconomic, civic, financial, and environmental implications for the region and its residents.

This study focuses upon Denver’s southern suburbs, particularly those located in Douglas County, the nation’s fastest growing county during the late twentieth century. It analyzes state and local government records and reports, United States Census Bureau population and local government data, voting records, corporate publications, legal records and correspondence, and newspaper accounts to illustrate the efforts and struggles of the region’s residents and governments to contend with growth. It combines elements of business, environmental, public policy, and urban history to add to the historical literature of late-twentieth century American suburbanization.