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Everything is Made Up

Life is the story we tell ourselves. This is why you can hear stories about people in the worst circumstances with the best attitudes and people who you would think should be pleased beyond their wildest dreams being miserable and on meds.

This of course means that the story of our city is also made up. It’s a collective agreement about what’s important to us, on how we got to where we are now, and on where we should go next. It’s hard sometimes when people don’t agree on how the story should go—arguments occur not only over the meaning of certain history but sometimes over the history itself. Sometimes we forget what happened. Sometimes we choose to forget. Sometimes we simply misinterpret.

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It made me think about our recent decision to put a moratorium on allowing small lots to be redeveloped without providing any parking spaces. The exception was originally intended to allow the rehabilitation of buildings on lots too small to make parking economical. Since the exception was put into place, the city has seen dramatic growth and some developers saw an opportunity to build dense housing on these small lots that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. The moratorium was enacted in order to review and fix the problem.

And that’s where the story begins. We’ve told ourselves that allowing housing without parking is a problem that needs to be fixed. We’ve told ourselves that Denver has always been a city where a car is required and will never be New York so we shouldn’t allow it. We’ve told ourselves that the exception was never intended to be used that way (which is true) and we’ve also told ourselves that the dramatic changes we’ve seen in our city don’t or shouldn’t change the story of our need for parking.

But like I said, these are all stories. We can tell ourselves that we need more parking or we can tell ourselves that we have way too much parking. We can tell ourselves that the city will never be dense enough to make living without a car possible or we can tell ourselves that making the city dense enough to make living without a car possible is imperative and start building as though it is. We can tell ourselves that it was never meant to be done this way or we can tell ourselves that creative developers have figured out how to solve some small part of our housing problem for us.

I’m telling myself to look for the opportunities instead of the threats. What are you telling yourself?


Stability or Sameness?

What do you seek from your city? If you were to move across the country and had your pick, what characteristics would you seek out for your new hometown? Good schools? A strong economy? Perhaps exciting nightlife, excellent parks, or good transit? What about constancy? How important is a place’s resistance to change?

I read yet another article today about the astonishing number of people who have and continue to move to Denver. Absent some calamity, it doesn’t seem as if this pattern is going to change any time soon. This brings to question the necessity of growth and our reaction to it as a city. Time and again I’ve read articles and comments suggesting that the growth occurring in Denver is shameful, annoying, bad, or even a conspiracy. People take affront to the change occurring next door.

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The euphemism I’ve heard used to resist the influx of new neighbors into old neighborhoods is “stability.” As in, “if we allow this new, larger building it will be destabilizing to the character of the neighborhood.” Or when a new mixed-use development goes up, “I bought this house thirty years ago. Don’t I have a right to a peaceful, stable neighborhood?” Or even, “without a stable neighborhood our schools will suffer”—a classic “won’t someone think of the children” refrain.

But stability allows for change, even growth. A child grows into a teenager who grows into an adult and remains a stable person. A building grows from a hole in the ground to a scaffolded construction site to a skyscraper and doesn’t fall over. And before our completely zoned and litigious modern times, a neighborhood grew as well—from a collection of homes to a retail corner to some small apartments to a commercial corridor and finally to a dense and vibrant district where all types of living, loving, commerce, salesmanship, and industry occur. Not all at once but piece by piece, every city in the history of mankind has grown in this way. Until today. Until now, with our complaints about traffic and our insistence on parking and our baked-into-the-code resistance to change.

But this resistance doesn’t fight against instability, it fights for sameness. It fights so that a person sees the same thing every day, forever. That home across the street will only ever be a home across the street and never anything different—unless someone tears it down and builds another home just like it. Literally, it’s in the code.

But this isn’t the character of a living city. These are not the actions of a growing metropolis embracing its destiny and welcoming the inevitable change and vital growth that makes a city great. It isn’t a guarantor of stability, it’s an imposition of sameness, a codification of bland, a legal requirement for stagnation. A place which fights the arrival of change is doomed to heartache because, good or bad, change is coming. We as a city need to make the distinction between stability and sameness. We need to allow new growth and new ideas, and welcome new neighbors rather than fight change and appear to be the unwelcoming and selfish people we claim we are not.

Can we accept this change? Can we look to the future and be grateful for our opportunities rather than resentful of our need to adjust? I hope we can.


Denver Urbanists Unite! MeetUp #20 Coming September 28, 2016

It’s time for Denver Urbanists MeetUp #20!

When: Wednesday, September 28, 2016 starting at 5:30 PM
Where: McLoughlin’s Restaurant and Bar (map)
Cost: Free!

In case you’ve never been to a Denver Urbanists MeetUp before, we have three rules: 1. Put on a name tag, 2. Get your own food/drink, 3. Have fun meeting and talking to people about cities and how we can make Denver even greater!

You don’t have to register to attend, but by RSVPing on our Eventbrite page, you’ll get on our mailing list and receive email notification for future meetups.

See you on September 28!


Denveright on DenverUrbanism

Happy Labor Day!

This is an exciting time in our great city. On May 19, Mayor Hancock officially launched Denveright, the most comprehensive and holistic planning effort that Denver has even undertaken.

“Great cities don’t happen by accident. Many great planning efforts, undertaken with our diverse communities, have helped us create the Denver we’re all proud to call home,” Mayor Hancock said in a press release. “There is so much about life in Denver that we all love and value, and Denveright is an historic opportunity for everyone in our city to have a voice on the needs and priorities that will shape Denver’s future.”

Four simultaneous initiatives are currently being stewarded by various agencies in a community-driven coordinated planning process, illustrated by the City of Denver’s Denverright infographic, below:

Denveright_Infographic

Community task forces for each area of focus were formed in June. Each individual was appointed by city leadership to contribute a unique voice to a diverse group comprised of neighborhood representatives; members of the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC); one member from each of the Mayor’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committees; two city council members; representatives from the business community, aging populations, youth and those with disabilities; and members with interest in sustainability, preservation, and civic and community health.

Using input from citizen “think tanks”, workshops, public meetings, and surveys that will take place over the next 18 months, these task forces will inform the contents of four upcoming citywide plans that will guide Denver’s growth for the next 20 years.

  • An update of Blueprint Denver, the 2002 citywide land-use and transportation plan.
  • An update of the Game Plan, the 2003 citywide parks and recreation master plan.
  • Denver Moves: Transit, a new mobility plan for transit in Denver.
  • Denver Moves: Pedestrians and Trails, a new mobility plan for sidewalks, crossings and trails.

Denveright is a monolithic planning effort that, if carried off successfully, will shape how and where the current and future citizens of Denver will live, move, work, and play throughout the city. It deserves a spotlight here on DenverUrbanism.

In the coming weeks and months, I will delve deeper into the Denveright planning campaign, starting with a closer look at each of the four tentpole initiatives. Blueprint Denver will be first on the list.  In the meantime, you can check out this four-minute Denveright press video from the city’s planning department, and peruse the Denveright website to learn more.


Blast from the Past: Glass House

Glass House, the two-tower, 23-story residential condominium developed by East West Partners was a milestone in the redevelopment of Denver’s Central Platte Valley. I took the photo below on March 7, 2006 as the installation of the project’s signature bright blue glass was just getting started. Back then, Glass House was one of only a few buildings between Union Station and the South Platte River.

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Today, Glass House is in the heart of an intensive urban area; since 2006, over 25 buildings have been completed or are under construction within a one quarter-mile radius of the high-rise.


Choose People Over Parking

by John Riecke

The news that the Cherry Creek mall will begin charging to park in their garages has been met with varying levels of disbelief, derision, statements of personal boycotts, and threats to drive thirteen miles away to Park Meadows. One of the largest concerns for business owners on Broadway when a new bike lane was installed was that they would lose customers because people would find it confusing or difficult to park nearby, and within six hours of the official opening several complained that business was affected. City council just passed a ban on new developments in zone districts previously allowed to develop without parking.

I think we forget that parking is tacked-on to places that aren’t designed to make it easy for people to be there. Take a look at the two Google Earth aerial images below (they are the same scale). One is Park Meadows, a very popular mall with ample parking. The other is Capitol Hill, a very popular neighborhood which is famous for its lack of easy parking.

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Capitol Hill has almost as many stores (and not just fashion clothing), definitely as many restaurants, but also an incredible number of museums, schools and, most importantly, people. One is built for people and one is built for cars. It should be obvious which is the more dynamic, resilient, and productive place. Or to be crass, one has in-built customers and one has asphalt.

I put it to you, would you rather drive to Park Meadows or walk around Cap Hill? I’d point out that there are no hidden gems in Park Meadows. There is no variety of architecture. No one has ever happily recommended to me a restaurant in the mall, or told me about a bar to visit in the multi-acre parking lot. I’ll never stumble upon a cool bookstore in the mall and share the discovery with my friends. Why does the presence of free and easy parking engender such passion? People should have such passion for places, not parking lots. A parking lot is not a place, and the presence of free parking doesn’t denote ease of access, quality of service, or quality of life. Often it denotes the opposite.

The easiest customer is the one that lives nearby. The parking least damaging to the fabric of a place is the parking that’s not needed. Don’t fight for parking, fight for people.

~~~

John Riecke holds a degree in Political Science from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. A resident of Capitol Hill, John is a volunteer for the local neighborhood organizations, Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation and Capitol Hill United Neighborhood and enjoys studying economic systems and engaging with city planning efforts. John became interested in city-building like many do when he bought his first house.


Blast from the Past: 16th and Wewatta from Above

No place in Downtown Denver has changed as much in the past few years as the area around Denver Union Station. I took the photo below on August 11, 2009 while on a hardhat tour of the then-under-construction 1800 Larimer project.

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In this view we see the area around 16th and Wewatta. What’s missing from this photo? The Triangle Building, One Union Station, DaVita Headquarters, 1601 Wewatta, Cadence, Platform, and the now-under-construction Hotel Born/1881 16th Street and 16 Chestnut projects. What’s in the photo but no longer there? The light rail tracks along 16th Street and the former platforms behind the historic station.


Exercising While Living in a City is Redundant

by John Riecke

You know what I don’t like? Exercising. I don’t like taking the time or making the effort. Blech. You know what I do like? Walking to the coffee shop on the weekend. Strolling to the fancy restaurant down the street on a date. Hoofing it to the grocery store and not fighting for a parking spot. A leisurely fifteen minute bike ride to work, sans-spandex. Sauntering downtown to meet friends for a drink and not worrying about how to get home. Even hiking the dog around the neighborhood, to the park, seeing the people and buildings and interacting with them along the way. And finally, I enjoy that I don’t have to exercise because my neighborhood is structured in a way that lets me avoid it.

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I love the variety of things to do in my city and especially the fact that they’re all so close that I don’t have drive to them. I’m not choosing to walk for my health—it’s actually the best choice given the great variety that my neighborhood offers. Why would I choose traffic and parking when I could literally waltz to my destination if I choose? Getting from A to B shouldn’t be a battle or a chore; it should be an experience, an opportunity. Don’t people always say it’s the journey, not the destination? That shouldn’t apply only to vacations and vision quests, our city should be built to allow people to experience their journey every time they leave the house. Why do I always feel that when I’m driving somewhere the destination is the most important thing and the journey is an inconvenience? I never feel like that while walking to the taco place, or biking to the movie theater, or taking the bus to work. The chore is gone and the journey becomes part of the experience.

So then I have to ask you what kind of city you want. One that makes the trip as engaging as the destination or one that encourages you to get in and out as quickly as possible? I’ve found that one is better for my soul. City leaders are also beginning to remember that walkable neighborhoods with plenty of destinations are better for civic culture, not to mention the bottom lines of their budgets. Denver’s urban future is on the way and I’m looking forward to experiencing more parts of the city that have remembered how to build neighborhoods that allow people to live healthily instead of travel quickly.

~~~

John Riecke holds a degree in Political Science from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. A resident of Capitol Hill, John is a volunteer for the local neighborhood organizations, Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation and Capitol Hill United Neighborhood and enjoys studying economic systems and engaging with city planning efforts. John became interested in city-building like many do when he bought his first house.


Transportation Variety Makes for a Vibrant City

by John Riecke

Part of the reason we live in cities is because we want options. Options for where to work, where to play, where to shop for groceries. Last week the options in which I was interested were transportation options. I had a busy day scheduled and needed to be in different places on a tight schedule.

You see, I live in Capitol Hill and I usually bicycle to work but my trusty steed had been victimized by a goat head.

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The trusty steed.

This particular morning I had taken the other trusty steed to work.

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The other trusty steed.

After work I walked to the nearest MetroRide stop where I happened to meet a friend I hadn’t seen for a while waiting for the same bus. I talked with her while transiting down to Union Station, I for my meeting and she for her transfer.

Steed of convenience.

The meeting ran longer than I had anticipated so my plan to take the bus to my next appointment was scrapped in favor of walking out front and hopping in a Car2Go and heading towards Cheesman Park.

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Trusty steed for when the other trusty steed is too slow.

After that meeting I decided to walk home rather than hop back in a car. This was serendipitous because I was joined by two other people going the same direction who wanted to continue the discussion. Because of that decision we were able to analyze the results of the meeting while working off some of the energy generated by the intense discussion. Just today I threw my bike in the back of my hatchback and hauled it to a local shop to repair the flat and give it a tune-up.

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Trusty steed for when the trusty steed has a flat.

My point here is two-part. First, not every mode of transportation is appropriate to all circumstances and no single mode provides the same or the best opportunities and benefits to all users. Is a bicycle the best choice for every person for every trip? No. Is a single occupancy vehicle the best choice for every person for every trip? Also no. We need the right tool for the job and if you can receive ancillary benefits by your choice, like for example socializing while traveling or exercising while commuting, all the better. We also need the city to build infrastructure to support these options.

My second point is that living in a vibrant city with lots of different nearby uses and plenty of different ways to get around is amazing. Even better than that is it’s healthy. Not just for the body (biking), but also for the mind (talking while walking), the soul (relaxing while commuting), and society (random social encounters). Get out there and enjoy your city today and whether you walk, bike, or bus, or maybe even drive, you won’t regret it!

~~~

John Riecke holds a degree in Political Science from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. A resident of Capitol Hill, John is a volunteer for the local neighborhood organizations, Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation and Capitol Hill United Neighborhood and enjoys studying economic systems and engaging with city planning efforts. John became interested in city-building like many do when he bought his first house.