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Denver's Green Side and Creative Acts that Matter
Sarah Rich, 17 Jul 06

denver.gif I left my hometown of Denver eight years ago, and each time I return, the first thing that strikes me is the encroaching crust of suburban development moving out towards the airport, which was very much in the middle of nowhere when first built in 1995. On all sides of the urban center, a generic suburbanism spreads continuously, wiping out independent retailers, and necessitating long commutes and intensive irrigation for lawns planted in a desertscape.

But last week I spent quite a bit of time seeing a different side of Denver -- one that I hope will gain the strength it needs to maintain a vital downtown core and the kind of culture and community which keep a city interested in monitoring its health and growth. To begin with, Mayor John Hickenlooper, who enjoys tremendous (and well-deserved) popularity statewide, announced in a State of the City address last week a "Greenprint" for Denver, which outlines a long-range plan for sustainable growth in business, housing, land use, energy and education.

In the art world, Denver has a number of interesting things happening. The Museum of Contemporary Art, which is currently being redone, has an off-site exhibition underway called Creative Acts that Matter, part of a 3-year project exploring the use of art as a tool to stimulate awareness and dialogue around social and environmental issues. Bus1small.jpg This particular exhibit involves a partnership with The Canary Project, an NYC-based team working to photographically chronicle the effects of climate change on global landscapes. During the month of July, their photos will appear on the sides of Denver buses with the text: This is what global warming looks like.

Meanwhile, the light rail system is under expansion into some of the outer reaches of the city, allowing suburbanites to pass up car commutes; Denver's got one of the larger commercial biodiesel ventures going; and the city has installed a "district cooling" system to distribute piped cool water throughout a number of downtown buildings in order to reduce air conditioning demands. With summers bringing multiple consecutive days of 100+ degree heat, these are improvements that make a significant difference.

The next few decades are likely to continue to draw new residents to Colorado, as Denver and its surrounding areas become increasingly desirable places to settle. Ideally, with city officials and community members pushing a sustainable agenda, it will grow intelligently and keep on being the outdoor playground it has always been, while maturing into a green cosmopolitan city.

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On all sides of the urban center, a generic suburbanism spreads continuously, wiping out independent retailers

another urban fantasy. Somehow if you could have a good green city, you wouldn't have any generic big box stores. But quite frankly, I consider the replacement of high-priced small businesses a good thing for consumers in general.

Big box stores full of cheap stuff you don't need may not better than small stores full of expensive stuff that is no better than the cheap stuff you still don't need. But look on the bright side, small and big stores have exploitive labor practices just like most restaurants and you'll still be paying urban isolation monopoly prices.

can't wait for the future to get here so I can spend more money to live in less space, in a more hostile environment.

Posted by: country mouse on 17 Jul 06

Kudos to the city of Denver. But Denver is not the surrounding area. Actually, the metro area becomes increasingly undesirable, but I guess it's all relative.

This area is not sustainable, especially with decreasing snow melt, increasing drowth, and increasing temperatures.

The new rail lines, while welcome, will only encourage people to move even further out. I can just see it. Drive 20 or 30 miles to the light rail station, then continue.

The front range, with the possible exception of Boulder is a disaster. Hickenlooper plans are too little, too late, and only affect a small part of the area.

Sorry for the negative attitude, but I've lived here too long as I know this area as it used to be which no amount of bright, green initiatives will do anything to alter.

Peak oil could slow this juggernaut down, but you will still have all that crap scattered over the landscape for miles and miles.

Part of the selling point of the new airport was that it was way away from residential areas. Now they are developing their way to the airport. Great.

Posted by: t on 17 Jul 06

I too have mixed reactions. This is a great city in a great location. I've enjoyed being so close to great vacation spots. At the same time, when I see the rampant consumption of land for ugly beige homes that stretch as far as the eye can see, when I see 70% of the population driving cars too big for their needs, and when I see droughts and heat waves coming through that potend the oncoming era of global warming, I get depressed. Still, I ride my bike to work. I use CF bulbs, I xeriscape my yard, I eat organic. I recycle. I make a difference in my own world, because at least then I'm not part of the problem.

Posted by: Erik on 17 Jul 06

if a big box pays attention to climate change, greens their product line to the point that even we approve of it, and reduce their fuel consumption with the help of Amory & the Hypercar krewe.. that is 100000% better than a bunch of stagnant Mom & Pops (and ask the mom/pop's mopper and stacker how great their benefits are...)

am curious... did you happen to go to Solar2006? That was in Denver (last weekend?)

also curious, about that Airport... sure why buy into all that tin-foil hat stuff, but the underground apartment buildings, highways, and office towers they built under the airport, do you think they stay cool in the summertime? or do you think that they use incandescents and therefore have heating problems... it's cool what the mayor is doing, can it counterbalance all the weirdness? can all the crazy stuff they say about the airport really be true? and even if it is all just a Happy Accident, what is with those uber creepy murals

Posted by: lee on 18 Jul 06

The thing about airports, and houses and retailers is that they follow money-making plans that worked in other parts of the country. So, Chicago's O'Hare airport, when they first built it, used to be out in the country. So you build roads, roads and services bring people and houses which bring more money and taxes for the city. It worked in Chicago, so do the same in Denver. Same for housing developments: build a bunch of beige packed-in houses and make a bunch of money. It's like there is a manual for how to make a quick buck building long-term unsustainable infrastructure. (Maybe it's called "Business School?") How to throw out these old ways of thinking and making money, I don't know...

Posted by: Dean Pajevic on 18 Jul 06

I am particularly impressed with the light rail expansion, especially considering its postwar expansion as a Sun Belt city and the lack of cities such as Seattle to begin really dealing with their traffic nightmares.

Posted by: Erik Loomis on 19 Jul 06



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