Denver looks to 2020 and beyond

Recovery from recession, unprecedented growth mark past decade

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With its robust cultural amenities, diverse physical environment and good economy, Washington Park is the place to be.

Especially for those who thrive in an urban setting.

The era of everyone desiring a life in the suburbs is perhaps over, said Paul Kashmann, Denver councilmember representing District 6, which encompasses Washington Park, Virginia Village, Indian Creek neighborhoods and more.

“Denver is hot right now,” he said. “And it has been for the past decade or so.”

The greater Washington Park community has a thriving business scene and vibrant neighborhoods. It's those reasons, and more, that Washington Park — and Denver as a whole — has seen unprecedented growth in the past decade.

This extraordinary growth had both positive and negative impacts. But heading into the next decade and beyond, Denver will adapt to change.

Empowering neighborhoods

According to George Mayl, president of the Denver Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation, it is today's younger generations who, in the present or near future, will be purchasing homes, sending children to local schools, enjoying the community's parks, needing transportation options and patronizing businesses.

“What (Denver INC) is trying to do now is (create) the building blocks for the future,” Mayl said. Denver “is not only our city, it's theirs. It is their future.”

The U.S. Census Bureau states that Denver's population grew 19.5% between the spring of 2010 and summer of 2018. On April 1, 2010, there were 599,815 people living in Denver. That number rose to 716,492 by July 1, 2018, according to the census bureau's data.

“Denver is a great city to be in and a great place to live,” said Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock. “You don't see 100,000 new neighbors move to the city if you're not doing something right.”

However, that boom of population growth did not come without growing pains, Hancock added.

“What's important is how you respond,” Hancock said, “and the investments you make in mobility, affordability and equity.”

While such issues such are not new, they are coming to the forefront at a faster pace than ever before, said Christine O'Connor, who co-chairs Denver INC's Zoning and Planning Committee with Ean Tafoya.

And it's important that neighborhoods have a voice, especially concerning ongoing issues such as housing affordability, redevelopment and transportation, O'Connor said.

It was only about 45 years ago when neighborhoods did not have a seat at the table, Mayl said, meaning they did not have an outlet to weigh in on important community decisions.

To help bridge the gap between policy-makers and neighborhoods, Denver INC — a volunteer-run, not-for-profit organization — formed in 1975. Today, it is the umbrella organization for more than 90 of Denver's Registered Neighborhood Organizations, representing at least 220,000 households and 400,000 residents.

According to its mission statement, “INC believes that individual neighborhoods are stronger when they work together and learn from one another.”

“Neighborhoods tend to have a local focus,” O'Connor said. Denver INC “strives to go beyond that and unite the neighborhoods.”

As the next decade approaches, Denver INC plans on continuing its focus of empowering neighborhoods, and will also proactively pursue attracting more young and diverse people to get involved with Denver INC, O'Connor said.

Recovering from the recession

When Hancock assumed office in 2011, the main focus was getting “Denver's economy going again after the Great Recession,” he said.

“Once we did that,” Hancock said, “we had to turn our attention to the issues facing highly desirable and successful cities.”

Denver experienced unprecedented growth, and that exacerbated the challenges that come with it, Hancock said. In the past decade, his office has focused on promoting housing affordability, implementing a transportation and mobility network that is “urban and people-focused” and ensuring development “wasn't displacing families and whole communities,” Hancock said.

“While growth will continue to happen, it shouldn't take away from what makes Denver the city we all want to live in,” Hancock said. “That sense of what Denver is to our residents is important to maintain.”

Kashmann agreed that affordability of housing must remain a core focus heading into the next decade.

“It's critical,” he said, because “the average workforce is struggling.”

This includes Denver's teachers, first responders such as firefighters and police officers, people in the service and restaurant industries and many others, Kashmann said. Though they are serving the community, they “can't afford to live in Denver,” he added.

Transportation infrastructure — mass transit, bike friendly and walkable development and traffic congestion — is another area Kashmann identified that needs attention. Development has moved forward at an historic pace, but transportation has not kept up with that pace, Kashmann said.

“We have a real crisis of moving people around,” he added. “We're at a time when we need our transportation system to be functioning at 150%.”

Kashmann points to the Denver Vision Zero Action Plan as one effort that will help the city overcome its transportation concerns. Denver Vision Zero is a five-year plan that outlines the goals that will move the city toward zero traffic-related deaths and serious injuries by 2030.

Blurring boundary between campus, community

The University of Denver is also working on a framework plan that will build on its strengths while remaining the community anchor it has always been, said Theresa Ahrens, the university's director of communications.

DU prides itself on being dedicated for the public good, Ahrens said. The Denver Advantage considers the needs and desires of both the campus and its neighbors.

“It goes beyond building buildings,” Ahrens said. “It's about what happens in the community and what happens beyond the (university's) boundaries.”

Boundaries, she added, that are becoming blurred — or, less defined — within the community as more of the general public make use of the university's amenities such as the library or the Newman Center for the Performing Arts.

The Denver Advantage comes out of the university's strategic plan and includes a multiphase construction effort. Current and upcoming construction projects are designed with students' success in mind, Ahrens said.

Construction on the Dimond Residential Village — a residence hall for first-year students — and the Burwell Center for Career Achievement is expected to be complete in fall 2020.

The Community Commons, of which construction is expected to finish in spring 2021, “will be the campus centerpiece and a recognizable symbol of DU,” states DU's website. Ahrens envisions it as a place where the local, neighborhood residents and DU community will intermingle, she said.

“Students need community from day one to do well in the classroom,” Ahrens said. “And we know that our students want and need community.”

The Washington Park variety

Tim McHugh and his wife moved to East Washington Park from Ann Arbor, Michigan, about eight-and-a-half years ago. He serves as president of Washington Park East Neighborhood Association and Friends And Neighbors of Washington Park. The couple enjoys their bungalow home located near some of their children and grandchildren, Washington Park and the business district of South Gaylord Street.

McHugh believes the major change he’s seen in the neighborhood has been the transformation of the houses — they went from being less expensive, smaller and older; to more expensive, large and new, McHugh said. He added the latter attracts younger, larger families.

But “we really like the variety of people of different ages — retired people like us, families with small children and families with teens,” McHugh said. “This variety helps to keep us active and challenged.”

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