By Logan R.R. Perkins, Director

The Priorities Institute, Denver, CO

January 2000

One problem with downtown Denver is that there's too much concrete. There's precious little greenery, no pocket parks, and no water. In great cities there are more aesthetically unique and pedestrian oriented areas. It's time to start planning for a better downtown Denver. With a creative vision Denver can be transformed into a truly first class destination.

Let's imagine it's the year 2020. What could Denver look like? First, eliminate street level automobile traffic in the 36 square blocks between 14th St. and 18th St., and between Glenarm (or Court) and Blake. These areas would be converted into pedestrian oriented walking areas with the attention to detail one finds in Singapore or Disneyworld.

16th Street Mall

All existing surface parking lots would be converted to pedestrian oriented pocket parks with kiosks and sculpture gardens and a few shopping conveniences and cultural attractions. Eliminating cars means the virtual elimination of the internal combustion engine and its air pollution in the downtown core.

Eliminating air pollution would open the option to a partially covered downtown, with retracting glass or plexiglass roofs, thereby allowing for greater year round temperature controls. This would allow greater landscaping possibilities, including flowing tropical plants. All downtown businesses would benefit from greater energy efficiency.

San Antonio - Nov. 1999

A wonderful feature of San Antonio and Amsterdam are the wonderful canals. Being relatively flat, Denver could conceivably incorporate a circular canal along 14th and 18th streets or 17th and 15th streets, with a connection along Curtis or Champa, and along Welton or Glenarm. The canal could be approximately two lanes wide, large enough for scenic gondola rides. There would be plenty of space on the sides to incorporate some green vegetation, and larger sidewalks than the often claustrophically narrow ones along San Antonio's Riverwalk.

Parking for downtown would be in outlying parking lots, including Coors Fields giant lots that sit empty most of the year. Frequent and free shuttles or trolleys would run from the lots to the city center. Other lots could include Elitch Gardens, the Pepsi Center, Mile Hi Stadium and McNichols arena. Some multi-story parking units would need to be added to these lots. Underground passages would lead to existing downtown parking garages, and would allow delivery vehicles to service businesses.

From downtown, not only would there be the light rail to Littleton and DTC, but other routes would run along Walnut, out to DIA, to Cherry Creek and Parker, up 36 to Boulder, up 25 to Thornton, out 70 to Arvada and Golden, and outwards to the mountain resorts. If you can identify downtown Aurora, have one head out there also!

Various projects around downtown Denver are increasing its livability and tourist attractiveness. The development planned for the Central Platte Valley will offer over 1600 new residences in a semi-pedestrian oriented area with some mixed-use zoning and new river front parkland. Other developments from LoDo to the Baker District represent an enormous interest in making Denver a more exciting place to live and visit.

The downtown core has the opportunity to not just follow suit, but to create one of the most comfortable and unique downtowns on earth. This cowtown can become an urban renaissance leader with more greenery, a greater pedestrian orientation, year round temperature control, a scenic canal, and alternative transportation options. By incorporating such features Denver could model a higher quality of life for residents and become a spectacular tourist and business destination.

Design competitions for various segments of the plan could be set for students, private professionals and city planners. A public forum could be set to review and select different project preferences.

If this modest proposal sounds outlandish, just remember the initial reactions to building Coors Stadium, or DIA, or the Eisenhower tunnel. Everything has its price, including maintenance of the Mousetrap, building light rail, and upgrading telecommunications wires throughout the city.

Do we want to maintain a cold, concrete, automobile oriented downtown, or do we want a first class downtown to be proud of and that will pay for itself through increased property values and steady visitors? Do we want our city's core to be mediocre compared to your average suburban mall, or do we want downtown Denver to stand apart as a world class destination? It's not too late to creatively plan for a better future for ourselves and our grandchildren.

Contact: logan@priorities.org

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