The Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO Metropolitan Statistical Area had an estimated population of 2,645,209 on July 1, 2012 (the 21st most populous MSA in the U.S.). However, Denver and Aurora combined make up less than half of the Denver Metro Area's population and Aurora has approximately half the population of Denver. The estimated population of Denver-Aurora, CO Combined Statistical Area was 3,214,218 on July 1, 2012 (16th most populous CSA).
Although Aurora has long been considered as one of Denver's larger suburbs, Aurora's growing population in recent decades (now over half the size of Denver) has led to efforts for co-equal recognition with its larger neighbor. Former mayor Dennis Champine once expressed the somewhat whimsical notion that eventually the area would be called the "Aurora/Denver Metropolitan Area". Indeed, since the 2000 Census, Aurora has surpassed Denver in land area, and much of Aurora is undeveloped, while Denver is more fully built-out. However, such efforts are somewhat hampered by the lack of a large, historically important central business district in the city. Aurora is largely suburban in character, as evidenced by the city's modest collection of tall buildings.
A large military presence has existed in Aurora since the early 20th century. In 1918, Army General Hospital #21 (later renamed Fitzsimons Army Hospital) opened, with the U.S. government expanding and upgrading the hospital facilities in 1941 just in time to care for the wounded servicemen of World War II. Lowry Air Force Base was opened in 1938, straddling the border of Aurora and Denver. It eventually closed in 1994 and was redeveloped into a master-planned community featuring residential, commercial, business and educational facilities. In 1942, the Army Air Corps built Buckley Field, which over the course of history has been renamed Naval Air Station, Buckley Air National Guard Base and finally Buckley Air Force Base. The base, home of the 460th Space Wing and the 140th Wing Colorado Air National Guard, is Aurora's largest employer.
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