Small cities in America’s Mountain West are booming

IN 1871 WILLIAM JACKSON PALMER, a civil-war general and railway magnate, looked up at Pikes Peak in central Colorado and decided “he wanted to build a city that matched the magnificent scenery”. Or so says John Suthers, the mayor of Colorado Springs, the town Palmer would eventually found at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Now, 150 years later, Mr Suthers says the residents of Colorado Springs are still trying to build that shining city on a hill. Lately, though, the building has sped up.

House prices in small and midsized cities are rising rapidly in America’s Mountain West. Average home values in Colorado Springs rose by 15% between February 2020 and February 2021; prices in Bozeman, Montana, increased by nearly 20% (see chart). In Boise, Idaho house prices are up by 28%, the biggest increase among the 900 metro areas tracked by Zillow, an online listings platform.

It is tempting to attribute this to the pandemic, a factor in house-price rises elsewhere. Lockdowns showed office workers that they didn’t need to commute to a fancy headquarters in a central business district to do their jobs. That left some wondering why they were forking out for a one-bedroom flat in San Francisco. The...

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