Posts Tagged ‘Denver’

City Building Isn’t Easy

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

The American Public Health Association’s annual gathering was in Denver this week.  The weather started out quite warm, in the 70’s and I had some time to walk around the downtown portion of the city.  The urban core is prosperous and is an interesting mix of good and poor design.  Here is an assessment of some of its good, bad and debatable points.

16th Street mall. The city has successfully fostered the development of an outdoor pedestrian mall that stretches for a mile along the western side of downtown.  Lined with restaurants, a few chain stores and other stores aimed at tourists, the mall is full of pedestrians and has only a few vacancies.  A free shuttle with very frequent service attracts lots of people.  On a warm Saturday evening, there was good multiracial and mixed group of ages in the area.  Perhaps the only thing it might benefit from would be a few more trees.

One way streets.  It seems as if almost every one of Denver’s streets is one way.  Most of the city core (if not the entire city) is a grid.  That’s good.  But the one way streets, most of which are of generous width, invite speeding.  For such a laid back city, its motorists are in a great hurry.  The high speeds vastly reduced the quality of the pedestrian experience.

Vacant lots and parking lots.  Once one gets off the 16th Street mall and goes west towards the convention center, there are far too many parking lots and vacant lots.  These are dead zones.  While 16th Street may be among the best urban experiences in the United States, 15th Street, 14th Street, etc, are wastelands, deserted of pedestrians and street life.

The cultural district.  Just south of the Capital is the Denver Art Museum, Denver Public Library and other buildings.  The Public Library was designed by Michael Graves and the addition to the Art Museum is a spectacular building by Daniel Libeskind (more on the library in another post).  Many friends and colleagues expressed a great satisfaction with the area.  This might reflect the great way the buildings play off each other.  But a problem is that the complex of buildings is isolated, and seems to have little positive impact on the neighborhood around it. Broadway, which runs alongside the complex, is creepily devoid of people.

Public transportation to the airport.  The new Denver airport is miles from the city center.  A cab ride will set you back $50 or $60.  The public bus costs $10.  But the ride takes an hour and only leaves once an hour.  Denver should be ashamed of itself.