Well, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, it’s August—that rare time when Colorado feels as if it is in both the thick and thin of summer. The days already seem a bit shorter, and my initial enthusiasm for warm weather is eclipsed by anticipation for fall. My desire to wear “back to school” clothing has officially become compelling, with hopes it might inspire my academic sensibilities and slow-and-steady studies for the ARE.
While I won’t say goodbye to summer yet, I’m going to wax sentimental, and revisit a refreshingly optimistic conversation I had and an article I read this past July about the “greening” of cities. Both the conversation and article proposed a simple, provocative narrative regarding the current and future development of America’s cities worth considering.
A few weeks ago I took an out-of-town visitor on the long, scenic drive from Denver to Aspen. As we ascended Independence Pass, switch-backed our way down into Aspen’s lush green valley, and a day later, looped through Glenwood Springs and onto Route 70, my guest made the observation about how well America has preserved and maintained its National Parks, and more specifically, how pristine and well-kept they found many of the local parks throughout Denver.
A week later, Frank Bruni published an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times titled, “Our Newly Lush Life.” In the article, he discussed the incremental “greening” of New York City over the past 15 years (represented by a spectrum of changes including the addition of bicycle lanes/paths, the development of the elevated park, “The Highline,” etc.)—and what a hopeful, exemplary case study this has and might become for other cities in America.
As a recent transplant to the Denver area myself, I can’t claim to be an expert regarding the city’s historic and contemporary urban development. However, I can assume that most people who have spent a weekend afternoon in some of Denver’s bigger parks (for example, Washington or City Park) can attest to the impressive variety of programming these parks facilitate on a regular basis, and what valuable shared “places” these spaces have become.
Therefore, my guest and Bruni’s sentiments really resonated with me. In my current lifestyle, I engage with Denver’s green spaces, bike paths
, and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure on a daily basis. Furthermore, I earnestly admit to being proud to live in a city that seems to prioritize green, open space within the city’s varied hybrid of dense commercial and residential urban fabric.
With that said, Denver has quite a few transitions slated and in-progress at present. The strategic development of Airport City is already underway while exploratory and confirmed redevelopment plans exist in various neighborhoods throughout the city and beyond.
Much like New York, we will be residents of a different Denver 15 years from now.
So what does Denver’s “Newly Lush Life” look like?
The truth is, we don’t know yet. While renderings, bulldozers
, and our recent memories of a “lush” July spent in parks and pools might help fuel our imagination, there is still a void of time, space , and opportunity to fill in the interim.
My hope is that Denver’s design and planning community will rally to set a new bar for what a “lush” city looks like. As space becomes more of a premium and densification a necessity, defining and designing what this term might look like in 15 years is an important challenge we might all consider in our on-going projects, regardless of scale and scope.