Please… It’s “Lower Highland”

Dan, thank you for your recent post about Denver’s unfortunate obsession with shortened neighborhood names, because I know you’ve heard me rant about this before. I completely agree with your assessment. This is a BIG pet peeve of mine. While I’m totally fine with the original “LoDo” which appeared about twenty years ago, and the more recent “RiNo” which is pretty ingrained now for River North, I really despise any further use of abbreviated names for Denver’s urban districts. This is especially the case for “LoHi” for Lower Highland (note: I live in Lower Highland, so this gives me extra bitching privileges). This naming practice run amok makes Denver appear like we have to resort to suburbanesque gimmicks to sound urban. We don’t, so let’s stop doing it, particularly since the areas that we’re giving these silly abbreviated names are our most authentic urban areas in the first place.

Lower Highland is based on a historic name that stretches back to the founding of our great city. The addition of “Lower” to the Highland name is itself a recent trend, reflecting the newfound popularity of the area (previously, it was referred to as East Highland). But just as Lower Highland was gaining traction as the name for the distinct sub-district of the greater Highland area closest to Downtown, suddenly it became “LoHi” and that’s when the name went from classy, to cheesy.

One or two neighborhoods with the 2-letter/2-letter shortened form is sufficient for any city. We’ve reached quota. Let’s move on, shall we? From now on, let’s stick with real names like Lower Highland, South Broadway, etc. Let’s judge the success of our revitalized urban districts not by how gimmicky their names sound, but by how authentic they are as great urban places.

By | 2011-04-07T21:43:26+00:00 April 7, 2011|Categories: General Urbanism|30 Comments


  1. Rob April 8, 2011 at 8:14 am

    Who cares what it’s called? How about taking all that bitching and pushing towards getting the graffiti cleaned up in this area and the trash, etc. etc. I had to recently call the city to report the tagging all over the Highlands Pedestrian Bridge. Or when I was taking visitors through Civic Center park and there was trash all over the place. I don’t care if people call it LoHi, they can call it LowerHi or LoBoCoDo for all I care. I always call it Lower Highlands or South Broadway. There’s more going on in this city to be upset about than what a neighborhood is called.

    • Todd April 15, 2011 at 9:39 am

      I agree with Rob. It’s like someone saying, “Apple should have continued to use Macintosh instead of Mac because IBM already abbreviated International Business Machines.” I’m not positive about this, but I doubt residents in NYC, Boston or Chicago are spending too much time taking positions on the naming of emerging areas or neighborhoods. If shortened names help promote urban living, positive enhancements and improvements and more public involvement in neighborhoods, it’s a good thing. Our time is better spent promoting positive change in our city and strengthening our neighborhoods and districts. If abbreviated names make the area known to a wider audience, that’s even better.

  2. Ron April 8, 2011 at 8:25 am

    I have to disagree, every great city has nicknames for their neighborhoods… SoHo in NY, Southie in Boston, FiDi in San Fran, etc. Being from the east coast its great to see Denver grow and mature into a big city and try to entice people to come and live back in the city from the awful suburbs by making areas the of the city interesting and distinct. If little nicknames are what it takes I have absolutely no problem with it and I welcome more Two-Syllable neighborhoods as Denver continues to flourish. Anything that keeps people from moving to Highlands Ranch is a very good thing.

    • Dan April 10, 2011 at 11:55 am

      FiDi in San Francisco? I’ve lived in SF for 12 years and have never ever once heard the financial district called “FiDi”. It’s called “The Financial District”. Clever huh? Thanks for trying though, Ron.

      • Freddie April 13, 2011 at 9:51 pm

        Yeah, I lived in SF for a few years and I don’t recall a FiDi either. SoMa is the only one I remember.

        Speaking of things you’re not supposed to call places, I learned very quickly after moving to SF that the easiest way to tick off a local is to call it “Frisco”. The first time I made that mistake, I just got some dirty looks, but the second (and last) time, I got screamed at: “DON’T CALL IT FRISCO!” Oops. *shrug*

        Years later I found myself getting all angry whenever a tourist would call it Frisco. Why? It’s just a harmless word. Funny how that is…

      • mrl April 14, 2011 at 11:50 am

        I concur. The relevant 2 syllable neighborhood in San Francisco is SoMa.

  3. CN April 8, 2011 at 9:18 am

    It’s Highland, not Highlands. West Highlands, Highlands Ranch, and Highland. Also, the Irish joint near Coors Field is Fado — not Fado’s.

  4. chachafish April 8, 2011 at 11:43 am

    The only thing that doesn’t change is change itself. 🙂

  5. steve harley April 8, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    good luck —

    the Baker Neighborhood is now called “Baker District”, “Baker Historic”, “Historic Baker”, “Historic Baker Neighborhood”, “Historic Baker District” and other permutations and manglings; the names are also now applied to locations as far east as Logan or as far north as 8th; “Baker Historic District” is often used for locations well outside the actual Landmark district …

    “SoBo” and “South Broadway” are now commonly used for parts of Broadway north of Ellsworth (which is the northern limit for the actual South Broadway Street); there is a new RNO which calls itself “Baker’s Broadway”, giving short shrift to the fact the east side of Broadway is in West Wash Park …

  6. Zmapper April 8, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Am I the only one who thinks “Lower Highland” is an oxymoron?

  7. Tex April 8, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    I live in HiRa. Used to live in UpTo. Hope to live near BBrea or CiPa.

  8. Davie April 9, 2011 at 8:21 am

    Read between the lines of Ron’s post. Hey Ron, what, was Denver just a blank piece of paper when you moved here? Did the natives plead with you to make us more like the place you left? So now it’s up to those of you who moved AWAY from somewhere to make Denver ‘interesting and distinct’? Puh-leese! If it was so cool, interesting and distinct living where you came from, why did you leave? Did you feel obligated to bring with you your – ‘this isn’t like the place I left…so I guess we need to change it’ attitude. You didn’t move here to ‘stay’ where you were. Get it my friend? There’s only a few of we natives left in Denver but we’re going to go down swinging. We certainly welcome you to come here to live – but we don’t welcome your ‘I’m-oh-so-cool-and-way-too-hip-since-I’m-not-from-here’ attitude. Leave what you found here alone. The Highland name is just fine if you yups insist on a name. It’s really all just North Denver anyway.
    Hey, how about the area of East Colfax where the ‘ladies of the evening’ work getting named HoDo? Think about it. Some new-to-Denver yuppie just may love it. So might the ladies! Thanks for the mini-rage Ken, and btw, you live in North Denver period.

    • Ron April 9, 2011 at 12:36 pm

      Wow Davie! Thanks for cheerful greeting and yes I’m a yuppie and proud of it. BTW without the transplants this town wouldn’t be as great as it is. Did you know that the former Mayor and now Governor John Hickenlooper is from PA? You think that its the people that grew up in Denver that brought the money to clean up LoDo? Or the Highland (North Denver) area? Or now Five Points and East Colfax? You think all those great restaurants, bars, hotels, lofts would be downtown without us? Sorry to tell you but it was the transplants. If you think it is the natives that make it so interesting and distinct then you are ignoring the real reasons that people move here; it’s cheap to live here, there are good jobs, the mountains provide unlimited outdoor options, the population is relatively young, and the city is extremely safe. I’ve never sat next to someone in a bar and had them say to me that they moved here because the “natives” of Denver are fantastic. Deal with the fact that Denver is a growing city and that “natives” have no more right to it than the transplants that bring their traditions and view of the world from far away places that you obviously have disdain for. Change is constant and not all change is bad. If I call it LoHi and you call it the Highland or North Denver is it really going to bother you that much?
      Or maybe I should just leave and let you and the “natives” deal with the real problems that Denver has instead of stepping up my efforts to help… poor public transit, an excessive amount of homelessness, etc. But I’m sorry, you don’t want my help or anyone else that has a new idea on how to get money back into the city instead of bleeding it to the suburbs.

    • The Dirt April 10, 2011 at 10:02 am

      I really love the nativist GTFO vibe that Coloradans give the transplants. It screams inferiority complex and it really makes this state feel so welcoming to outsiders! I read between the lines and saw nothing fesecious. I read between your lines, Davie, and I spied an ass.

    • Aaron April 10, 2011 at 6:54 pm

      Natives, transplants, yuppies etc.

      Can’t we just go back to simpler times like when we just blamed everything on the Irish?

      Too many possible scapegoats makes it hard to decide who to blame what on and establish a well defined stereotype for that group. Since most of us likely live in the city of Denver I propose we just blame everything on the suburbanites that way we can avoid more of these squabbles in the future.

  9. Nick M April 10, 2011 at 11:16 am

    I dislike all the two syllable nonsense. It just leads to the impression of areas that have no personality and are just another generic sub-brand rather than distinct neighborhoods with history. How often do you wonder what “SoBo” means beyond “South Broadway?” Do you even know why the area is called “Baker?” Do you ever wonder why it’s called “Lower Highland” instead of “LoHi?” The names of these places tie them to their past and sometimes even explain a little about the neighborhood, also providing an anchor moniker around which neighbors can get behind. Too many of these two syllable names becomes very Orwellian ^_^

    LoDo, RiNo and Cap Hill don’t bother me so much…RiNo actually suits the personality of the area and is a bit of a double entrendre. LoDo hints at the urban nature of Lower Downtown. Cap Hill is just a straight up abbreviation the way “Wash Park” is, and has much more of the flair of a local invention (meaning common usage) rather than a real estate developed term. Locals all know that Cap Hill and Wash Park mean Capitol Hill and Washington Park respectively.

    But please, let’s stop with the ridiculous two-syllablization of every Denver neighborhood.

  10. Daniel April 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    Yikes. The internet has a way of turning the most benign conversations into vicious bastions of vitriol.

    I’m a native. I don’t think we’re a bunch of idiots who contributed nothing to the ‘new’ Denver. I also miss a lot of aspects of the ‘old’ Denver that are fading away. Even if those involved poor public transport and rampant homelessness. I’ve been getting into the whole infill ideal for a few years now, but I had a telling conversation with another native a few days ago. I was lamenting the continued prevalence of ground level parking lots throughout downtown, and talking about the need to replace these with new developments. He looked at me askew and replied, “yeah. we need more condos and chain restaurants.” That pretty well describes what many of us lament about the new Denver typified by these fancy, two-syllable neighborhood names.

    But, blaming this on the transplants (who must by now be pretty close to outnumbering the natives in Denver, at least among certain socioeconomic strata) is absurd. We’re all in it together and we all benefit from it. I’d be lying if I didn’t appreciate being able to live in Capital Hill and then Whittier without having to worry about having my car broken into o a regular basis or dealing with rampant crime and limited economic options, as would have been the case 15-20 years ago. But I’d also be lying if I said it doesn’t bother me that the new model for Denver development seems to be based more on the vanilla sameness of lodo and 16th street as opposed to sante fe and colfax. But the blame (and praise) for these changes can’t be placed on natives or transplants alone.

    I live with a guy from Michigan. He’s great. My girlfriend is from Aurora. She’s great. My parents moved here way back when from Texas. They’re great. Lets all calm down and stop acting like internet tough guys, shall we?

  11. steve harley April 10, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    Nick M asks do we know why “Baker” has that name, and implies it will tell us something interesting about the character or history of the neighborhood; the story is actually pretty stultifying: for a while a junior high school and then a middle school were named for James Hutchins Baker, first president of the University of Colorado; they weren’t so named because Baker had any connection with the schools — he was just someone who deserved to have a school named after him … Baker never lived in nor had anything significant to do with Baker, and there is no longer even a school named Baker here (also, for those thinking mostly of Broadway, the east side of Broadway is not in Baker)

    perhaps the most interesting thing about the name to me is that an obscure neighborhood planning document from the 1970s incorrectly referred to a “John Hutchinson Baker”, and to this day that incorrect name has been blindly copied; try googling that name — you’ll find a few dozen real estate websites pretending to “know their market”

    (any realtors reading this, there are other common errors on your “history of Baker” pages, so don’t just fix James H. Baker’s name and think you’re done)

  12. Dan W April 10, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Denver native, loud and proud. It really doesn’t concern me that neighborhoods have two-syllable names. Come one, come all; people from all over the country make Denver a better place.

  13. Carl April 11, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Two blog entries on neighborhood names and not one on RTD’s decision not to go forward with the tax increase this year or the removal of the Barnes Dance? There have been real and important developments in the Denver metro area that will affect how and where the city grows. I had hopes that the Urbanism blog would be a venue to discuss newsworthy developments facing the greater metro area but I am concerned now that it is turning in to a place where planners merely air their grievances about something as superficial as what people call the neighborhoods (a transition that has happened organically by the way, doubt this post is going to change it). Ken, come back and provide some direction….

  14. Justin April 12, 2011 at 9:28 am

    It hasn’t happened as organically as you think. Here’s the liveworkplay website shamelessly promoting two syllable nicknames I hadn’t even heard before. “BuCu” and “NoBo.”

    The reason this is a an issue worth getting upset about is that it is one of the worst examples of the “commodification of place.” Developers and real estate agents, and, eventually, non-profit and public entities all use these cutesy terms to convey a safe, well-heeled image in order to draw in the upper-middle and upper classes. It reinforces class segregation, an already serious problem that will plague gentrifying urban areas for years to come. Why aren’t we hearing “SoFed” for South Federal or “FiPo” for Five Points? These are two of the most culturally unique places in the city, Five Points as the historic African-American community and South Federal as the epicenter of Denver’s Asian and Latino communities, but they represent a healthy mixture of people and therefore haven’t been co-opted, in name and place, by one class.

    The point is, in a healthy civil society a place should be thought of and named after its unique characteristics, history, and cultural identity, not reduced to a two-syllable word in order to sell condos to the rich.

    • Carl April 12, 2011 at 12:55 pm

      It takes a lot of steps for your perceived harm to personify itself. Developers need to make the name, then the place (because of its name) needs to become gentrified, then that gentrification needs to somehow visit harm upon the current residents. Gentrification, by definition, leads to less class segregation. Would you prefer the upper-middle class and upper class to continue to live predominately in the newly created gated enclaves on the suburban edge and communities such as Cherry Hills? One of the examples you list of the two syllable names, NoBo, used to be a field and a drive in theater, in fact there is a large affordable housing development nearby. How does the two syllable name in anyway harm the residents of that place? The names themselves are in fact derived from the place. They may be adopted by real estate agents and developers to sell housing and entice retail to come (which in fact benefits current residents) but I would argue that they are created more as a result of familiarity than a desire to be “hip”. Lower Highlands may correctly identify the place, but some may find it cumbersome to say and too formal.

      However, the real point is that there is no harm in these names whatsoever. It is merely the nature of a changing and growing city. Most of these neighborhoods at one point and time where the “so-and-so ranch” anyway. The name of a place is not nearly as important as it substance and its substance is why we care about urbanism.

  15. steve harley April 12, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Justin — interesting point about commodification of place; and i agree that it is realtors who drive some of the sloppier renamings

    however Five Points is two syllables already, so i don’t think it’s a great example when part of what ostensibly drives the process is the desire for shorter names

    btw, NoBo has been around for quite a while; here’s a 2005 article in the Daily Camera for example:

  16. Daniel April 12, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    Does anyone actually use these names in everyday speech? I have never once heard someone say, “I’m heading over to LoHi,” or, “I was in SoBo when…” or, “there’s this great restaurant in NoBo that…”

    Besides LoDo and CapHill (which the young people are using these days) I never ever hear people use these abbreviations. Maybe RiNo once in awhile too, although I always have associated that name with the clump of arts buildings rather than an actual neighborhood. Am I alone here?

  17. Ken April 13, 2011 at 9:22 am

    Thanks everyone for the vibrant discussion but remember to keep it civil. This is not the Denver Post.

    I do posts like this to generate a little controversy but on a not-too-serious of a subject.

  18. Frank April 13, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    You really can’t do much about a neighborhood name if people adopt it. The opening of the LoHi Steakbar codified the LoHi which was confined to realtors at that point. It makes me cringe that basically all of North Denver is called “The Highlands” but what can you do?

    On a side note you four-letter neighborhood haters should be happy that NoDo never caught on for Ballpark.

    • Nick M April 13, 2011 at 9:30 pm

      An area I simply refer to as “Ballpark”…maybe in a way I’m equally guilty.

      • UrbanZen April 14, 2011 at 4:05 pm

        Agreed. What’s wrong with 5 points, which is the neighborhood’s correct name. Ballpark is just as bad as NoDo. Not to mention Golden Triangle instead of Civic Center. Although I do like Uptown better than North Capitol Hill…that’ll clean out the RiffRaff.

  19. Freddie April 13, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    I’ve only lived away from Denver for 5 years. That’s it. And I’ve NEVER heard of ANY of this two-syllable nonsense. Back in my day (waaaaaaaay back in the days of flip phones with antenna nubs, for you youngins not old enough to remember) the only abbreviated neighborhood names were LoDo and Wash Park. I have a hard time believing the residents of Denver have actually become accustomed to all these new monikers in such a short period of time. I’ll bet a hundred bucks they don’t stick. There’s no way. And I’ll bet another hundred bucks – despite not living there for 5 years and being somewhat out of the loop – that if you mentioned “LoHi” or “SoBo” in passing to any random Denverite, they’re not going to know what the heck you’re talking about.

  20. Ted April 14, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    rename the entire city MileHi.

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