A recent Pew Research survey rated the nation’s top 30 largest metropolitan areas for livability. Off the top of your head, which city would you guess was named number one in the nation? Portland, the prized jewel of the northwest? How about the Windy City of Chicago? Sunny San Diego? None of the above. Denver, the Mile High city, took the top spot.

Reaching this pinnacle is a tall order, but Denver’s mountainous, mile-high altitude gives the city a decided advantage. Blessed with scenic topography, bright skies, and 300 days of sunshine each year, this 24th most populous region in the nation is poised to capture growing numbers of newcomers who are fast becoming attracted to its progressive, positive vibe.

With a population of nearly 600,000, Colorado’s capital city exudes descriptive adjectives: friendly, cultured, and sophisticated, among those more frequently used. Livability is supported by a wealth of urban, exurban and suburban neighborhoods, with high walkability scores and a plethora of amenities supporting a high quality of life.

Unlike most major cities, Denver’s growth emanates from the heart of downtown, one of the most economically robust central business districts in the nation. The core of this city’s metro vibrancy is the 16th street mallway, an urban planning gem with streetscapes teeming with foot traffic. A catalyst to street retail, dining and entertainment activity is the über-impressive transport bus system, which makes regular stops along this thoroughfare. These hybrid green vehicles provide free rides to a steady stream of people—business professionals, panhandlers, university students, and city visitors—many of whom connect to the light-rail lines traversing the area.

A View Along Downtown Denver's 16th Street Mall

The downtown Union Station promises to further fuel the transportation infrastructure as the city has recently received millions of dollars to redevelop this historic landmark into a transit hub, connecting light-rail, commuter rail, buses, streets and public spaces. This will also expand the pedestrian feeder system, which supports perhaps the most dense concentration of professional sports complexes in the world. Denver is a haven for spectator-sports junkies. For example, in the central city area the Pepsi Center is home to the Denver Nuggets (basketball) and the Colorado Avalanche (hockey). Invesco Field hosts the Denver Broncos (football), and Coors Field showcases the Colorado Rockies (baseball). Soccer enthusiasts can also rejoice. A short distance outside the city, the Colorado Rapids play at Dick’s Sporting Goods Field—considered the largest state-of-the art soccer stadium in the world.

Union Station

Residents seeking close proximity to the spectator-sport scene or abundant social and cultural events should check out the Lower Highlands area, one of Denver’s rapidly gentrifying sections on the fringe of downtown. Another popular neighborhood is Lower Downtown, a bustling set of city blocks featuring beer pubs, fine dining and the Tattered Cover bookstore, a mecca of bibliophiles worldwide. LoDo, as it is affectionately known, is also home to the nation’s largest concentration of Victorian and early 19th century structures.

The Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver's LoDo District

Closer to the downtown core are a wide mix of communities offering livability. The Capital Hill neighborhood, near the state capital building complex, is a cosmopolitan enclave with a strong gay-friendly orientation. It features an eclectic mix of high-rises, rehabilitated houses and evolving neighborhoods. Another up-and-coming locale is the Bluebird District, a 17-block area with stunning views of the downtown skyline. Colfax Avenue, one of its main arteries, once sported an unsavory reputation as a red-light district replete with prostitution and illegal drugs. Bolstered by the reconstituted Bluebird Theatre, a venue regularly hosting well-attended concert events, Colfax Avenue now features a bohemian, artsy crowd that patronizes local coffee houses, galleries, bars, dining venues and independent businesses. This area also boasts the infamous City Park, the most prominent, notable park in outdoor-oriented Denver. Modeled after New York’s Central Park, it contains 314 acres of pristine land on which sit the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Other favorable communities include Stapleton and Cherry Creek, although these options are slightly further from the city prime.

Not everything is perfectly aligned in Denver, though. Its notoriety as America’s “Beer Capital” along with its rapid emergence as a booming medical marijuana destination strike some as simultaneously odd and progressive. And the media attention swirling around John Hickenlooper, the highly popular, entrepreneurially minded mayor who announced his candidacy for state governor, has locals murmuring about how the city would fare in his absence. These musings notwithstanding, Denver has a solidly positioned livability niche, which bodes well for the city’s long-term growth and future success.

Michael Scott is the Editor of Urban Engagement Webcity. He can be reached at michael@vdowntownamerica.com