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Archive of posts filed under the General Urbanism category.

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.


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:

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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.


Denver Urbanists Unite! MeetUp #18 Coming May 25, 2016

Mark your calendars! Denver Urbanists MeetUp #18 will be held at McLoughlin’s Restaurant and Bar (map) on:

Wednesday, May 25, 2016
5:30 PM

Since our last get together in March, the A-Line to Denver International Airport has opened and three more FasTracks lines will open before 2016 ends. Yay! But what about better intra-city transit? BRT on Colfax? Streetcars on Broadway? What about improved transit to Cherry Creek? Highlands? Let’s talk transit at MeetUp #18 and make connections and build relationships so we can work together to advocate for a more urban Denver!

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Where do we go from here?

In case you’ve never been to a Denver Urbanists MeetUp before, we have three rules: 1. Put on a nametag, 2. Get your own food/drink, 3. Have fun meeting and talking to people!

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. DenverUrbanists MeetUps are free.

See you on May 25!


Denver Urbanists Unite! MeetUp #17 Coming March 16, 2016

Back in July 2013, Ian Harwick and I launched Denver Urbanists MeetUps to give people who care about cities an informal venue to gather, chat about urban issues, build relationships, and work together to help Denver grow and thrive. We are now up to MeetUp #17 and they continue to be a source of gratification and inspiration for me.

Each meetup consists of a mix of regulars—people who I’ve come to know from previous meetups and enjoy reengaging with—and first-timers who bring new and interesting perspectives to the conversation. Of course, the combination of regulars and first-timers is different every time, which results in each meetup feeling comfortably familiar but unique at the same time. Also, everyone is amazingly friendly and I leave each meetup feeling grateful that I live in a city that has such a culture of openness. A big THANK YOU to everyone who has attended a meetup in the past!

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A pleasant urban scene for your enjoyment. Thank you, Ryan Dravitz—you’re awesome!

Here are the details for our upcoming meetup:

Denver Urbanists MeetUp #17
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
5:30 – 8:30 PM
McLoughlin’s Restaurant and Bar (map)

In case you’ve never been to a Denver Urbanists MeetUp before, we have three rules: 1. Put on a nametag, 2. Get your own food/drink, 3. Have fun meeting and talking to people about building a sustainable and walkable Denver! If you want to let us know you’re going to attend (optional), use this link to RSVP at our Eventbrite page. DenverUrbanists MeetUps are free.

See you on March 16!


Please Support Affordable and Attainable Housing for Denver – Council Bill 15-0811

Anybody following the Denver housing market has noticed a very large decline in new for-sale and condo development. In fact, only one Central Denver condo project, containing 80 units, has been completed in recent years. That means only 0.6% of all residential units being built in and around Downtown Denver were condos. With the simple rules of supply and demand, the for-sale supply is at an all time low with demand rising causing record high average home prices.

So what is Council Bill 15-0811 and how is it going to fix the supply flow of condos in Denver?

From the Downtown Denver Partnership:

The Downtown Denver Partnership has long advocated for policy changes to address the effects that construction defects legislation has had on the Downtown Denver housing market. We are proud to have worked with the Homeownership Opportunity Alliance and the City and County of Denver on proposed Denver City Council Bill 15-0811 to help address these issues through local ordinance changes.
Championed by Mayor Hancock and his policy and legal teams, the proposed ordinance would do the following:
  • Limit the manner in which technical building violations can be used in construction defects litigation;
  • Support covenants that require alternative dispute resolution of construction defects claims; and
  • Institute a majority vote process with all association homeowners before legal action can go forward.
Denver City Council Bill 15-0811 offers a balanced approach that will create a fair legal resolution for construction issues. Importantly, the City’s approach will not take away a homeowner’s or community’s rights to seek a resolution to a construction issue.
The Downtown Denver, Inc. Board of Directors passed a resolution in support of City Council Bill 15-0811 to further emphasize the importance of having a variety of housing options and price points available in the center city and surrounding neighborhoods.

From the Homeownership Opportunity Alliance:

The Colorado General Assembly last session failed to address the defect in state law that exposes homeowners and builders to a high risk of expensive, time-consuming litigation—despite broad bipartisan and coalition support.

This defect means that Denver’s housing market has not kept pace with the demand for affordable and attainable homes among first-time homebuyers and others with a modest income. Rising housing costs and soaring rents threaten to price many Denver residents out of the market. Yet, condos, which have always provided a pathway to homeownership, now represent just 3.4 percent of new homes in the Denver metro housing market.

Now it’s up to the City and County of Denver to address this issue at the local level—like Aurora, Lakewood and seven other communities. Denver City Council Bill 15-0811 offers a balanced approach that will create a fair legal resolution for construction issues. Importantly, the city’s approach will not take away a homeowner’s or community’s rights to seek a resolution to a construction issue.

Here is how you can show your support and help get this bill passed:

  • Send a letter to your City Council member. Head on over to the Homeownership Opportunity Alliance to help you get started.
  • Attend the Denver City Council courtesy public hearing Monday, November 16th at 5:30pm at the City and County Building in the City Council Chambers, 1437 Bannock Street Room 451.

Balanced for-sale and rental development is critical for any successful housing market and Denver’s great future. We hope to see you Monday!


Denver Urbanists Unite! MeetUp #15 Coming November 18, 2015

Hey Denver urbanists… it’s time for another meetup!

Please join us for Denver Urbanists MeetUp #15 on Wednesday, November 18, 2015 starting at 5:30 PM at McLoughlins Restaurant and Bar, 2100 16th Street. McLoughlins is a great neighborhood pub right next to the Millennium Bridge.

As always, there is no program or anything formal—just a bunch of friendly people getting together to chat about Denver’s growth and development and to meet like-minded people and make connections. There is no fee and you’re on your own for food and drinks.

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There is a lot to talk about, right?! Huge year for RTD coming up in 2016; new development on just about every corner; new bike lanes popping up all over downtown! Stop by and discuss these and other topics with other people who love Denver and cities!

Click on the link below to see additional details. Registration just helps give us an idea of how many people to expect. You do not need to bring the RSVP ticket with you, and if you don’t register, that’s OK too. Please stop by either way!

Denver Urbanists MeetUp #15 Eventbrite RSVP

We hope to see you at Denver Urbanists MeetUp #15 on Wednesday, November 18 at 5:30 PM at McLoughlins!


Downtown Reinvestment: 1660 Lincoln

It has been a little while since we looked at some of the reinvestment going on around central Downtown Denver. With newer, more attractive office projects going up in Union Station and Lower Downtown, the older office buildings in the central core have started to step up their game.

1660 Lincoln is not, by any means, Downtown Denver’s most attractive skyscraper. Built in 1972 and rising 30-stories (366 feet), 1660 Lincoln has always had a closed in presence on both the skyline and street level.

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However, the skyline of a city is not what makes or breaks the experience; it’s the street level. Would you rather walk by a closed up office building, with two entrance / exit doors or a bright, open lobby with glass curtain walls lining the street?

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This revialization project should be wrapping up in the next couple of weeks, brightening up yet another intersection in our great city.


Where Should We Put Bike Lanes? (Part 2 of 3)

Bike Lanes on Major Streets

There are significant advantages and disadvantages to building bike lanes on streets like Broadway and Brighton. From the perspective of bike advocates, the most obvious advantage is the visibility of the lane as a political victory. The effect of claiming one of Denver’s most important arterials is resounding. It sends a message, loud and clear, that bikes matter; that people on bikes deserve part of the road; and that, as a transportation mode, they’re just as important as people in cars.

Further, it directly connects people on bikes with their destinations. In Denver, and especially on South Broadway, the destinations aren’t on Bannock or Sherman—they’re on Broadway. Putting people on bikes right on Broadway connects them directly with their destinations—no first and last block considerations needed. Additionally, from a business standpoint, people on bikes who are just passing through become an important customer base for those businesses on Broadway. People riding on Bannock aren’t going to make an impromptu stop if they can’t see the business.

Check out this protected bike lane in Vancouver. It’s beautiful, and has increased bicycle traffic along this route by 19% per year since 2010–but are we willing to build this intensely on our major arterials?

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*Photo courtesy of Paul Krueger, Momentum Mag (source)

How much work and investment does it take to build a good bike lane on Broadway? And if the lane only attracts people who are already biking, what have we really accomplished? As I wrote in my last post, any new bike lane that a family with kids doesn’t feel comfortable riding in, is insufficient—plain and simple. The sheer infrastructure that building such a lane on Broadway would require, would be monumental and expensive. A three-foot buffer with plastic bollards-style lane like 15th Street simply isn’t good enough. Have you ever seen families biking on 15th Street? I haven’t.

That is the downside of building bike lanes on major streets: the lanes have to be much more intensive in order to account for existing high-speed, high-volume traffic, and guarantee safety–real and perceived. Overall, they are more expensive to build out entirely, and take a long time to build because of all the engineering and traffic considerations. But, they connect people on bikes directly to their destinations, while facilitating more low-speed traffic (bikes and pedestrians) on retail corridors.