DENVER — On October 4 and 5, the City and County of Denver launched five “Denveright” Community Visioning Workshops welcoming the citizens of Denver “who live, work play and travel through the city.” It is part of a historic and unprecedented effort to inform citywide plans for land use, mobility, parks and recreational resources. The plan aims to provide an in-depth review and retooling of Blueprint Denver (Land Use & Transportation), Game Plan (Parks & Recreation), and Denver Moves (Transit and Pedestrians & Trails) to meet the needs of Denver’s rapid growth. The 18-month process and community conversations will help shape the city for decades to come.
The District 1 visioning session was held at North High School with over 200 attendees chiming in. City officials including Brad Buchanan, the Director of Community Planning and Development and Happy Haynes, in charge of Denver Parks and Recs, along with dozens of city planners who participated in the cross-departmental initiative.
Brad Buchanan outlined the goal, “We are at the beginning of a historic planning process. Normally when the city works on any new planning efforts, we take things on one at a time.” By reviewing all four areas at a high level and their interconnectivity from land use to parks and recreation to transit and pedestrian connections, he reflected, “It is more complex, but we decided that through a coordinated effort the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Why now? Jay Renkins from MIG, the lead planning and design consultancy working with the city remarked, “Denver has always planned for growth and evolution from the beginning. The population growth increased at a steady rate since 1880. The only time that Denver saw a spike nearing today’s rate of growth was in the 50s and 60s. The rapid growth of population in the last 5-6 years has created an accelerated rate of change.”
We all feel it. The Denver construction industry boom, traffic jams, parking problems, and the skyrocketing rent. Denver hit the Wall Street Journal with the headline, “Denver Job Market Lures Millennials…the newcomers are fueling the city’s boom, but locals fret over rising rents and lost views.” Renkins reflected, “If we don’t step back and see where we are headed, the very reasons we chose to move here may be compromised.”
To put the mission in context he said, “The last time we did city-wide planning was in 2002. At that time we were planning toward 2020. FasTracks wasn’t even built yet. Apps were just a section in a menu and not something carried in pockets.”
He continued, “With population and job growth we have already exceeded those targets in 2016. We need to respond to the rapid growth. We are living in a different time with new business models, communication ideas, and emerging technologies.”
The questions that we have to answer for our future, “How do we leverage historic and new? How do we ensure access to parks with a strong sense of community? How do we make Denver safer and healthier? How do we ensure that our neighborhoods are unique and diverse? How do we provide great recreational activities?”
He cautioned, “We need to think about families and children and our aging population. We need to be thinking not just about ourselves, but the 700,000 residents moving through their life span, many who want to age in place.” In essence, what you want or desire now may be different in the next 10-20 years, or longer. “It requires creatively and holistically thinking about how we balance all of the City’s needs and prioritize them.”
My vision for Denver is:
To ascertain and garner community input the cafeteria was turned into an interactive game show of sorts with a myriad of ways to weigh in. It was unfortunate that the session was so short due to the enormity of innovatively presented information and feedback requested.
Participants were invited to write notes expressing, “My vision for Denver is…”
A unique exhibit was a gigantic floor map with intersections and trails throughout the city that attendees marked with dots to signify dangerous intersections, accessibility between crosswalks and trails, and faulty roads or sidewalks requiring maintenance.
A color-coded transit wheel asked the question, “I would ride the train or bus more often if….” Citizens weighed in on three core issues by selecting colors that created a transit collage around accessibility & affordability, convenience & connections, and amenities & information.
As part of an overhaul of Blueprint Denver, a Neighborhood Planning Initiative (NPI) is underway. The goal is to build neighborhood area plans. By grouping “like-neighborhoods” into a larger area, there will be a streamlined and consistent process common to all plans.
Neighbors had a lot to say about what they believed “like” neighborhoods were when reviewing the proposed neighborhood groupings. Chaffee Park took the largest hit of arched eyebrows as it was combined with Regis, Berkeley, West Highland and Sloan’s Lake. Residents chimed in, “Chafee Park should be grouped with Sunnyside” (due to proximity and common services or amenities.) In theory, the community’s input will be considered as part of this process.
Community Listening Session:
The evening ended with a “listening session” to gather direct comments that effect residents. Comments abounded.
• On Services: “The residential density has increased by 100% near 38th & Tennyson, yet the fire station hasn’t gotten any better. How are city services, more than just sewers and pavements being addressed?”
• On Transit: “We need more circulator routes in NW Denver that go through the community on busy thoroughfares like Tennyson or Lowell that are crowded with traffic. Is RTD partnering in this initiative?”
• On Construction: “We need to identify best practice of construction. Poor management of construction is running rampant with scrapes and new builds. Muds and contaminants are going into the sewer drains that go into our lakes and rivers. There need to be policies to enforce the issue.”
• On Zoning: “Rampant permitting for buildings and additions means that bungalows are getting swallowed in darkness.”
• On Developers: “There is no respect for native plants and trees. Developers need to get educated and work hand-in-hand with the community to respect that. It can’t just be for money.”
• On Lakes: “Sloan’s Lake depth is getting shallower every year and threatens to become a swamp if it is not addressed.” The frustration that millions were spent on a Sloan’s Lake analysis that went nowhere has left many baffled.
• On Trash: “The amount of litter and trash on the streets and sidewalks has increased significantly. We need more trash cans and to have them emptied more often. We need a campaign to clean up and educate where trash goes. Otherwise, the sewer run-offs will kill birds and wildlife.”
• On Complaints: “The amount of styrofoam coming off of buildings means death for aquatic life. Who do you call to complain? There needs to be an easier way for people to voice our concerns.”
• On Minority Communication: “This city is over 45% minorities. This plan matters for people in Globeville, Swansea, and Elyria. We need an opportunity to bring everyone in the city together, not just the privileged ones. There must be options of how to communicate and reach out to these communities.”
• On Sustainability: “I’m surprised to see so few sustainability issues were raised in the City plans, aside from Parks & Recreation addressing climate change. I am still flabbergasted that my apartment doesn’t recycle.”
• On Green Living: “Why do we only have box homes? For 10K more there could be a green roof on top. The investment will come back quickly for those that do.”
• On ADA Access: “The Millennium Bridge over I-25 doesn’t have ADA access, and the elevator is broken half the time. Whoever designed that? What were they thinking?” and “Sidewalk connectivity must be in place. Wheelchairs are weaving in and out of traffic.”
• On Government: “Every once in awhile the city asks for input, but they do what they want to do anyway. What I want to see is an ongoing community outreach to talk about the kind of city we like and want.”
• On Taxes: “OK everyone, we need to raise our taxes to pay for this stuff. If you want to live in a beautiful, great city.”
Rafael Espinoza’s staunch support for developing neighborhood plans, righting the wrongs of past city zoning, and preserving historic properties made this community visioning session something he takes to heart. In conclusion, he said, “I am going to advocate for more specific plans and prescriptive language. There must be a zoning process that is met with heavier criteria so that decision making for areas of stability and areas of change are not treated the same. The new plan should have some teeth that reflect the hard work and efforts going on in this room.”
If you wish to get involved, including being a part of a “Community Think Tank,” to attend future meetings, or learn more visit www.denvergov.org/denveright.
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