It’s a mighty exciting time to be a Denverite right now. We’re a growing city in a time when many people want to live in the urban core. We’re continuing to add high-quality jobs every year that attract innovative, exciting people. With growth, though, comes some degree of discomfort, and many of our neighborhoods are struggling to find ways to reconcile the Denver they’ve always known with a city that is changing and that needs to change. The moment is forcing us all to think hard about who we are and who we want to be.
Are we going to allow ourselves to be a sprawling car-centric metropolis where the only available housing is out in the suburbs where land is cheap, but modes of getting around are consequently narrowed? Are we going to be a city where the wealthy are the only ones who can afford to live in the city center or are we going to adopt housing policies that protect the folks who are already here and who have made our neighborhoods great, while also welcoming newcomers?
The bottom line is that people are not going to stop moving here anytime soon. We can stick our “Native” bumper stickers on our cars and drive all over this town demanding that the public continue to subsidize free places for us to park. Or we can slap our BikeDenver stickers on our helmets and ride around town celebrating the fact that Denver is Not Full and we need to make room for all of the opportunity that growth presents to us.
Enter the YIMBY.
YIMBY (Yes In My BackYard) organizations are formalizing themselves all over the world in cities as obvious as San Francisco and Portland and in towns as unlikely as Sika, Alaska. Last summer, Boulder hosted the first international YIMBY conference (called YIMBYtown) to try to bring folks together who are united by a common ethos: 1. Affordable living is a right, and densifying our neighborhoods is essential; and 2. We have make sure our cities are built for people, not for cars.
Everybody recognizes the need for attainable housing. The question gets trickier for some folks when housing opportunities present themselves in our own backyards. Since the City and County of Denver is projected to grow by hundreds of thousands of people by 2040 and the metro area will see even more than that, all neighborhoods, even the “stable” ones, will need to absorb some new neighbors or else newcomers will have to find housing outside of town where their only realistic mode of getting around will be their personal vehicles, which they will inevitably drive into the city to go to work every day.
YIMBYs recognize this growth as an opportunity rather than as a burden because YIMBYs perceive that density is good and density makes cities work better. Increasing the density of our neighborhoods can make utilities more efficient, can make public transit more viable, and can make bike and pedestrian infrastructure more of a priority. YIMBYs perceive that the development of multi-family, mixed-income housing or land use policies that allow for Accessory Dwelling Units can encourage more diverse neighborhoods and, consequently, create neighborhoods that are stronger and more just.
Planning for people (not cars) means prioritizing resources to maximize the personal experience. A functional sidewalk system that makes it easy for people to walk means more opportunities for neighbors to interact with each other face to face. Activated ground floors in mixed-use developments can give neighbors organic reasons to do so. Bike infrastructure that recognizes that people are not cars and protects them accordingly can encourage this much more rewarding way to move around. Land use standards that require developers to provide places for people to store their vehicles, on the other hand, not only drive up the costs of housing that get passed on to homeowners or renters but, more importantly, they can deaden large swaths of public space while incentivizing the use of personal vehicles which are bad for the environment, bad for our bodies, and don’t make our neighborhoods nicer places to be.
Denver isn’t full, and people aren’t going to stop moving here. YIMBYs embrace the great, people-oriented city that we will become, rather than the car-centric city that we are now. YIMBYs are excited about the opportunity our growth offers us to think hard about who we are and to plan for a healthy city that is sustainable and accessible for everybody. Join us in working to turn that vision into Denver’s dynamic reality!
Drop on by YIMBY Denver’s first meetup this Wednesday, February 22, from 5:30 – 8:30 PM at Public School 303, (16th and Wewatta), to meet some like-minded folks and see how you can help promote a vision of a welcoming Denver.
Andy Sense started thinking about his relationship to the built environment as a bike commuter and a dad of two young kids who are learning to be bike riders. He is a graduate of INC’s Citizens’ Planning Academy and Transit Alliance’s Citizens’ Academy. He also considers himself incredibly fortunate to be able to participate in our civic conversation as a member of the Blueprint Denver Task Force.