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Archive of posts filed under the Parks & Public Spaces category.

CU Denver Students Celebrate PARK(ing) Day 2014

by Jenny Niemann, CU Denver Master of Urban and Regional Planning student

On Friday, September 19, the Planners Network – CU Denver Chapter turned a parking spot at 14th and Larimer into a temporary parklet. Graduate students in the University of Colorado Denver’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning Program participated in the International PARK(ing) Day to raise awareness about the vast amount of space dedicated to parking spots in the US and to start a conversation about more productive uses of these spaces.

PARK(ing) Day “is an annual worldwide event where artists, designers and citizens transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks. The project began in 2005 when Rebar, a San Francisco art and design studio, converted a single metered parking space into a temporary public park in downtown San Francisco. Since 2005, PARK(ing) Day has evolved into a global movement, with organizations and individuals (operating independently of Rebar but following an established set of guidelines) creating new forms of temporary public space in urban contexts around the world.”

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The Planners Network – CU Denver Chapter parking space was filled with seating, games, books, and an opportunity for Denver residents to participate. Seemingly surprised by the unusual furniture set up in the middle of a parking space, many pedestrians stopped to read an information board describing PARK(ing) Day goals and the state of parking in the US. Passersby were asked to contribute to a board asking what else this 9′ x 18′ space could be besides empty asphalt dedicated only to cars. Ideas ranged from bike parking to affordable housing and a water slide. Throughout the day, students from the College of Architecture and Planning utilized the space for studying and socializing with peers.

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Books were also collected for a “park library” and visitors were invited to take a book home with them. Remaining donated books were given to The Arc.

Students hope to continue PARK(ing) Day efforts throughout the year and more Denver organizations will host parks for PARK(ing) Day next year, which is always held the third Friday in September. For more information on international PARK(ing) Day, see http://parkingday.org/.


City Loop, Take II

After much public debate, an energetic group of local citizens recently came together to put the kibosh on a proposed park redevelopment in City Park called “City Loop.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the project, it was (in the words of Denver Park’s and Recreation staff) “intended to be a new, multi-generational activity and play area that would replace the existing Dustin Redd playground, which is in need of significant repair or replacement after nearly 20 years of use. The goal behind the current City Loop concept is to create a new area that gives everyone using the park—from small children to older adults—an opportunity to remain active and enjoy a healthy lifestyle.” For more info on the project, you can follow this link to the city’s web page on City Loop.

For the purposes of this blog post, I don’t want to get into the controversy behind the City Loop proposal at City Park but, rather, to urge the city to give this concept another try in an area of the city where it’s wanted and desperately needed. In the wake of the demise of the initial proposal, Councilwoman Susan Shepherd and Councilman Paul Lopez have been working with local neighborhood groups to ask the Parks department to reinvent the concept in Paco Sanchez Park. Never heard of Paco Sanchez Park? That’s precisely one of the reasons for this proposal. Unlike City Park, this park is relatively unknown and underutilized. It is also situated in a neighborhood where there are a great deal of low-income families with children who could easily access the park by foot, by bike and by rail. The following is a Google Earth aerial photo of Paco Sanchez Park.

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Paco Sanchez Park, named for a local Hispanic activist and radio broadcaster, is located in Lakewood Gulch between Federal Boulevard and Knox Court on Denver’s west side. The brand new West Line cuts right through the middle of the park; in fact, it would completely sever the park in two if not for a new pedestrian bridge that was built as part of the light rail construction. The park is part of an extensive bicycle corridor that connects west-side residents to the Platte River and is book-ended by two light rail stations. Bus lines run down Federal and Knox Court making this park accessible to virtually every mode of transportation this city has to offer (except B-Cycle, but that could come later).

With the exception of the light rail bridge, some bike path and storm drainage upgrades needed for the light rail project, and a highly successful Frisbee golf course, the park has not seen substantial investment in decades and could seriously use an update. The park is utilized, but not to the extent that it could be, because there is not much in the way of programming and because some of the facilities that do exist are deteriorating. While there hasn’t been much investment in the park in recent history, there is beginning to be a great deal of reinvestment in the neighborhoods surrounding the park; plans are in the works to revitalize the Sun Valley neighborhood and its DHA housing project to the east, and a new mixed-use development with a new public library is being built a block to the north (link). While City Park could certainly use additional maintenance and investment, I personally think bringing the City Loop concept to a less beloved park, which is in greater need of investment and activation and is in a neighborhood that is transitioning into a denser transit-oriented neighborhood, makes a great deal of sense. Let’s see what this might look like.

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The photo on the left is the proposed City Loop concept for City Park taken from the city’s website. In the image on the right, I’ve taken this concept, overlaid it (relatively to scale) on top of Paco Sanchez Park and made some slight modifications to make it work in this park (I’ve also taken the liberty of giving it a bit of a filter, so it looks more conceptual). While there would need to be significant modification to the plans due to topography (it is in a gulch after all), the concept of a looping trail with multiple interactive playground nodes could work very well here. The concept would greatly help to tie the two halves of the park together allowing for more interaction from one side of the gulch to the other, and since the “loop” is centered on the light-rail line (crossing over it twice), the park could really celebrate transit as part of the experience.

There are a few other reasons I think this is a great idea and should be implemented (and I do hope Lauri Dannemiller of Denver Parks and Recreation is reading this). First, there are a very large number of ethnically and racially diverse, low-income families with children in the Sun Valley, West Colfax, Villa Park and Barnum neighborhoods who would have direct access to this park via, foot, bike, bus and train. These kids can’t necessarily afford to go to Elitch’s and don’t have the luxury of being driven to nicer suburban parks with new modern playgrounds, spray pads and the like. This could be a great place for them to be kids, to explore and be active. It could be their amusement park. What’s more, many of these kids are at risk for obesity, and the health risks associated with it. This new concept with a walking loop and multiple play areas would help keep these kids more active and healthy (and it could help their parents too).

Second, I think the park could become a real jewel in what is already a nice green necklace of parks that cuts through the west side of Denver. Finally, there has been much concern among long-time locals about the strain that new development around Sloans Lake Park may put on that park. I firmly believe that creating another destination park within the general vicinity would ease some of the pressure off that already well-used and beloved park. I do hope that the city parks department shares the opinions of Councilwoman Shepherd and Councilman Lopez and seriously considers this proposal. I think it could really be a win-win for the neighborhoods surrounding Paco Sanchez Park and for the City of Denver as a whole.


Goodbye Market Street Station!

With the new Denver Union Station Transit Center now open, it is time to say goodbye to Market Street Station. The 30-year old station has served many transit riders including myself and I’m sure many of you have memories using this station throughout its legacy. Today we are here to say goodbye and take a look at some final photos before it becomes another memory in Denver history.

The outside of the station always had an interesting mix of architecture. From the 1970’s style waiting area mixed in with tents similar to Denver International Airport to chess pieces as benches, this plaza has always been a very unique sight. Also, did you notice 16M in the background? This intersection is going through many changes.

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For being a product of the 1970’s, these entrance buildings are still pretty sleek.

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Time to head down to the station! Unlike Chestnut Pavilion and Wewatta Pavilion, these are very narrow passageways with a narrow central staircase.

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Once you make it down, you are greeted with a very dark, green tinted great hall with very uncomfortable, round, granite seats. In the center, there is a ticket booth counter and restrooms in the back. Behind all of that, you will find Gate 5 in a nice, tucked away, easy to miss corner.

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When your bus arrives, the bus door is right up against the gate door. If you have any large bags, it’s going to be difficult to get them into the cargo compartments of the bus.

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No matter how dark, uncomfortable, and smelly Market Street Station was, it still held a lot of sentimental value to a lot of riders. Every wall in the station is covered with memories, and goodbyes to the station.

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Back outside, between the two entrances, you are greeted with the same uncomfortable, round, granite seats that skateboarders used more for tricks more than pedestrians for seating.

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And how can we ever forget the bright, red way-finders at each corner of the block?

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What’s next for Market Street Station? A pair of Denver developers have very high interest on redeveloping the block into a mixed use building or two, much like 16M. The only building that stays is RTD’s headquarters at 1600 Blake Street. For now, it’s goodbye Market Street Station!


Let’s Plan Around the Pepsi Center

A defining mission of the DenverInfill and DenverUrbanism blogs has been to report on infill development in and around Downtown Denver. Most of this infill development has come to fruition by replacing surface parking lots with residential, commercial and/or institutional buildings. In recent years, many parking lots in Downtown Denver have thankfully been put to higher and better use through infill development. While there are still many more parking lots that have yet to be filled, I want to suggest that the city begin planning for some of the biggest parking lots in the area: those around the Pepsi Center.

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Recently the city undertook planning efforts in the Sun Valley Neighborhood south of Mile-High Stadium and suggested conversion of some of the parking lots (especially those south of Colfax closest to the light rail station) to residential and commercial uses. Doing so would activate a highly blighted and underutilized area with good public transit access and proximity to the South Platte River Greenway and help create a more viable and sustainable community in the area. Unfortunately, given the large amount of undesirable infrastructure in the area (e.g. a power plant, electrical substation and massive fuel tanks) and the fact that it is extremely difficult to create economic development around a football stadium with less than 20 large events per year, the goal of redevelopment in the area seems extremely lofty.

Now if the City can plan for such a lofty and questionably obtainable goal, then I have to ask why we aren’t planning for what I consider to be a much lower hanging fruit: the lots around the Pepsi Center. With over 40 Nuggets games, 40 Avalanche games, and numerous other concert and sporting events each year, the Pepsi Center brings a huge number of people into the area on a regular basis. Add to this existing activity the site’s extreme proximity to Downtown and the Auraria Campus and there’s a lot of potential for residential and commercial development on this site. When you consider that the site is flat, has excellent vehicular infrastructure around it and has access to two (very underutilized) light-rail stations, redevelopment here seems very feasible with little added investment. We just need to plan for it.

By my rough calculations there are nearly 50 acres of parking lots immediately surrounding the Pepsi Center (between the railroad, Speer Boulevard and the Auraria Parkway). There is an additional 15 acres of parking shared with Elitch Gardens just north and west of the arena. This represents an area that is equal to or possibly greater than all the infill development between Union Station and the South Platte River and could be a huge economic boon for the city if developed right. What might this redevelopment look like? The following are my thoughts on a plan for the area.

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First I would consolidate a large amount of the surface parking into a few large parking structures (cyan) that are wrapped with residential (yellow) and commercial (blue) structures that form walkable city blocks. Preserving the few existing mixed-use buildings (red) and providing some additional commercial office space in the district would help increase use the parking structures by day while the arena utilizes them at night and on weekends. Second, I would intersperse some green promenades that could be designed to handle and clean storm water runoff before running into the South Platte. These green spaces might be designed so as to provide view corridors to the arena from the major arterial streets for visual wayfinding. The promenades would also provide pedestrian access to and from the Arena, Downtown, the Auraria Campus and the light rail stations on the edges of the site.

As long as were making big plans, let’s also talk about combining the “Sports Authority Field at Mile High” and the “Auraria West” light rail stations into one station along Fifth Street under the Auraria Parkway viaduct (orange above). The two stations are way too close together and extremely redundant; eliminating one station and straightening out the track would speed up the trip into Union Station from points south and west. The city could then use the rest of the property between the tracks for a small park with recreational amenities for the new residents. Finally, I propose that we connect the new development to the South Platte River trail via a bike/pedestrian bridge across the railroad tracks, and thus provide even more recreational access to and from the new neighborhood.

As Denver continues to grow and expand and urban living becomes increasingly more popular, we need to take a serious look at the opportunity for creating a new downtown adjacent neighborhood around the Pepsi Center rather than leave it an asphalt wasteland. If designed and developed right, this corner of the Auraria Neighborhood could become the hottest new address in town.


Another way to see the US: Map of where nobody lives

There are more than 300 million people living in the United States today, but America is such a huge country that we still have staggeringly vast areas that are completely devoid of humans. This map illustrates those places. Everything colored green is a census block with zero population.


Map by Nik Freeman of mapsbynik.com.

The eastern US is pretty well populated except for a few spots in mountains and swamps. There’s plenty of rural land, plenty of forests, but you’re never far from a farm, if not a town.

The west is a completely a different story. It’s covered with enormous stretches of land that are simply empty of people. There are towns along major roads, rivers, and rail lines, but vast emptiness between.

And Alaska’s emptiness makes even the western contiguous states look densely populated. Those green areas near the Arctic Circle look bigger than entire states.


Map by Nik Freeman of mapsbynik.com.