Five members of the SSI program together in the mountains

As a Sustainability Skills Initiative (SSI) intern this summer, I certainly did not expect to be given the generous opportunity to come to Denver at the beginning of August. Alongside the three other interns, Hira, Ah’Shaiyah and Daniela, as well as Isabel Mendoza, organizer of the SSI program, I spent three days exploring popular places in Colorado. 

A picture of Larimer Square decorated with lights and flags at nightLower Downtown (LoDo) in Denver was home to a playful city life—full of interesting people and things to do, yet with plenty of open space. During one of our free evenings, my fellow interns and I tried to find interesting things to do on EventBrite and ended up at an amateur stand-up comedy club, then getting ice cream from Hidden Gems in Larimer Square. I had never been in a comedy club before, so this was already a surreal experience. When we reached Larimer Square, full of laughing patrons and glowing lights, I was hypnotized by its charm.

A picture of a yellow house in Estes Park surrounded by trees and a tall hill

We also visited Estes Park, a town surrounded by nature with a boardwalk-like area full of tourist-y stores and restaurants. Notably, we were able to try elk meat, a rare (pun-intended) experience for all of us. It was such a fun place with so many small, niche stores, such as the random Renaissance clothing store we stumbled into after said elk burgers. Like many other places in Colorado, Estes Park was full of charm and offered plenty of new things to explore for both tourists and locals.

Of course, for tourists, one of the biggest draws to Colorado is its natural beauty. As a tourist to Colorado, I had expected the natural and urban life to be completely distinct from each other; people would work in the city during the week, then drive hundreds of miles to some remote mountain hiking trail. I quickly realized this was not the case. 

The natural aspects of Colorado, from Rocky Mountain National Park to Red Rocks Amphitheatre to the Denver Botanical Gardens, were gorgeous—definitely a sight to marvel at after studying in the topologically flat state of Illinois and residing in the similarly uniform Connecticut for so long. As breathtaking as this scenery was to me, it must be no more than the ordinary backdrop of life for Colorado residents. Despite the wildfire haze, craggy peaks of huge mountains peeked out from behind tall office buildings, and plains of green-yellow raced past in time with highway traffic. The nature of Colorado was embedded so smoothly into the urban landscape of Denver, Boulder and other cities, and consistently reminded me of a new realization I had: that moving to a city did not necessarily mean I had to give up elements of nature in my life.

Plants on the windowsill next to a desk in the Alliance Center building

The Alliance Center building, with its environmentally-friendly design, many potted plants and blue-green-brown nature theme seemed to embody this ideal as well. During our tour of the building, I learned of the recent remodeling that specifically incorporated these themes, showing me yet again that this kind of balance between urbanization and environmental sustainability could be achieved in any building by utilizing space more efficiently. The Alliance Center is very focused on not only achieving environmental sustainability in energy and space usage, but also on catering to the needs of their clients. I was very impressed by the features in the building, like the open space cubicles that allow for more collaboration, the quiet “wellness room” that offers people the chance to relax alone for a bit and even the integrated exercise equipment. Overall, I think I would have loved to work in this building if I had stayed in Colorado long term, and I admire that the building is constantly being improved not only for the sake of the environment, but also for the clients and employees within.

Before coming to Colorado, I had always looked upon my future with trepidation and a bit of resignation. I figured I would end up working in a chaotic city even if I majored in environmental studies, and would then have to wait until retirement or something in order to regain the slice of nature that I’ve always treasured having in my daily life. Coloradan city life showed me that it was possible to retain both, and I look forward to seeking this rare balance in my future.