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The "New West" Key Events Maps Transcript Webography
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By the end of the twentieth century, the American landscape had been transformed by revolutionary technology, an influx of people, and an unprecedented economic boom. No region of the nation was more affected than the West. Indeed, the shape and meaning of the West was, by the millennium, in doubt. According to popular thinking, the old Rocky Mountain West had been a wild, untamed place. But now it seemed that a somehow smaller, more accessible "New West" had arisen. This New West, a region as much cultural as geographical, seemed in danger of becoming just another place in a homogeneous landscape.

Between 1990 and 1996, the far-flung cities of the intermountain New West showed phenomenal rates of population growth, although the total population of most were still small compared to the megalopolises of the Northeast, the Far West and the sunbelt South. Consider the following U. S. Census data on the 10 largest urbanized areas of the region in 1996:

1996 Population and '90 - '96 growth rate:
Phoenix, Arizona 2,746,703 22.7%
Denver, Colorado 2,277,401 15.0%
Salt Lake City, Utah 1,217,842 13.6%
Las Vegas, Nevada 1,201,073 40.9%
Tucson, Arizona 767,873 15.1%
El Paso, Texas 684,446 15.7%
Albuquerque, New Mexico 670,092 13.7%
Colorado Springs, Colorado 472,924 19.1%
Spokane, Washington 404,920 12.1%
Boise City, Idaho 372,587 25.9%

Other urban areas in the region with growth rates of over 15% include Provo, Utah; Reno, Nevada; Fort Collins and Grand Junction, Colorado; Richland, Washington; Las Cruces and Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Yuma and Flagstaff, Arizona.

As the West has become more accessible, has it lost its mythic power?  Can a landscape of jetports, city streets, golf courses, and ski slopes offer the sense of openness, the challenge of freedom, that Americans treasure as part of their heritage?  Some argue that we can never recover the wildness of the West; domesticating the continent, we've lost the connection to the best in our national character.   But others believe that there is still plenty of room to connect both with nature and with a past not simply heroic, but human.



  

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