Feature

Reasons to Love Denver

December 2012

34 Because so many people here tell the same story: “I came to visit Denver and I just never left.”

We’ve all heard the tale a hundred times. Hell, many of us have told the yarn ourselves. The details change, but the moral of the story is always the same. Whether we were on a ski vacation, driving across the country on the way to a new job in California, or here on a quick business trip, a seemingly significant percentage of us made what we thought was going to be a brief pit stop—and never left. We actually wound up having to ask our families to ship our belongings to Denver. The city was so desirable, so completely intoxicating, we didn’t even want to leave long enough to execute a proper move.

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35 Because Lois Brink knows the value of play.

As the founder of Learning Landscapes, a CU-sponsored program, landscape architect and professor Lois Brink has been transforming Denver’s neglected schoolyards into multi-use playgrounds. Over the past 15 years, she has renovated 96 schoolyards and counting. We talked to her about her work.

5280: Tell us how Learning Landscapes began.

LB: It started in 1992 when my daughter was at Bromwell Elementary. I was so amazed that we could have such a scorched-earth schoolyard for our children. I thought as a mom and as a professor, I can’t let my child be involved in a space like this.

How does the program work?

It’s a collaboration. First, the University of Colorado Denver sees the value of research at the city level: We use courses in the landscape architecture program to develop Learning Landscapes’ master plans, then work with local landscape architects to complete the project for Denver Public Schools. Because Learning Landscapes gives back to the broader community through integration with the university, by creating work for local landscape architects and by encouraging neighborhoods to embrace the areas as their own, it allows DPS to continue to get bonds approved by taxpayers.

We’ve noticed that every playground design is different. Why?

Yes, they are. For example, Barnum Elementary, named for Barnum & Bailey Circus, has circus qualities. The shade structure is a big top; it’s bright red. There are podiums for the kids to sit on that are like what the seals and elephants used to stand on. We try to have each school have some special thing, and then we incorporate the common elements like archways, shade structures, and school banners.

Is there any one design tenet that you find most impactful?

The idea that you don’t isolate elements. We had an artist that made a great big Earth Mother statue that has a big lap. The kids wanted the Earth Mother in the play area, and the artist had a fit. Today, when a child has a bad day, she will go and sit in the Earth Mother’s lap. It’s always difficult to convince adults that you can put a piece of art in the midst of a bunch of play equipment and the children are going to be kind to it.

What are the benefits of having these playgrounds within the school setting?

Teachers have noticed they have up to 20 minutes more of instructional time during the day because the kids are coming into the classroom ready to be on-task. There is less aggressive behavior and more cooperative play on these playgrounds. We had a teacher say, “Oh, my God, the fifth-grade boys are queuing up to swing. They are not just bullying.”  

What has been your greatest challenge?

I know that these places are connected to higher test scores, but we haven’t been able to prove it. It’s the Holy Grail. 

Why is play important?

I’ll quote American psychologist Abraham Maslow: “Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.”

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36 Because you can still buy a warehouse in RiNo for less than $500K.

Black Shirt Brewing Co. was destined for River North, the warehouse village and epicenter of creativity just north of downtown Denver. The artisanal brewery is one of the latest startup businesses to reincarnate a RiNo warehouse as a hipster destination. Branden Miller, head brewer and Black Shirt’s co-owner, says coexisting with other creative types was a key draw. RiNo’s proximity to I-70 and downtown helped, too, as did the fact that you can snatch up a 4,000-square-foot warehouse for less than the cost of a one-bedroom LoDo loft.

Compared to other cities’ fledgling Tribecas, RiNo is awesomely affordable. East Austin’s few remaining industrial buildings cost $80 to $100 per square foot. Portland’s Pearl District hovers at $140. And San Francisco’s SoMa? Well, that averages in the wallet-crushing $200s. Prices in RiNo start as low as $20 per square foot, says Brian Smith, chairman of the RiNo Neighbors District and founder of the Space Creators, a real estate development company that has rehabbed three RiNo buildings into unconventional group workspaces, or what Smith calls “micro-communities.” He says buildings with highly sought-after addresses like Larimer Street and Blake Street, and on Broadway near Brighton Boulevard, are pricier—in the $100s. And change—of the spend-your-life-savings variety—is likely on the way.

Among the new projects coming online: the completion of Kyle and Mickey Zeppelin’s TAXI development; Cyprus’ build-out of 300 residences at the Denargo Market; and the transformation of Bud’s Warehouse (another Zeppelin project) into the Source, an urban market with two restaurants, cheese and meat counters, and a bakery. Plus, Smith notes that small businesses, restaurants, and bars are opening up all along the northern stretches of Larimer. Such neighborhood elements bode well for Black Shirt, a company that might’ve gotten into the neighborhood just before it explodes.

“It’s definitely a rad time to be in RiNo,” Miller says. “We hope to see our little neighborhood grow in all of the right ways.”

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37 Because we have actually climbed our fourteeners. (Yes, Paul Ryan, we’re looking at you.)

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that experiencing certain outdoor pursuits in Colorado is a near requirement for residency. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if someday the state’s driver’s license application required proof that you’ve skied at least one alpine run, camped in the backcountry, or, maybe most critically, watched a sunrise from the summit of a 14,000-foot mountain. Dragging your ass up thousands of feet to gasp through a photo op on the top of the world is a rite of passage here in the Centennial State. So much so that people will more comfortably talk about the mountain peaks they’ve bagged—or failed to bag—than their career tracks (see number four). Which is why we were so irked when we found out that then-candidate for vice president Paul Ryan claimed (years before) to have climbed more fourteeners than, well, pretty much every Coloradan we know. We’re all for a little athletic exaggeration over beers at the end of a hike, but we never ever lie about how many fourteeners we’ve climbed. Never.

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38 Because downtown Denver isn’t noisy, chaotic, smelly, sketchy, and crowded like other big cities in this country.

Sure, we might miss the action—bustling sidewalks, hopping off the subway at Mid-town, and late-late-night pizza—of America’s big-boy burgs sometimes, but there’s something so refreshing about being able to walk through the streets of downtown without feeling accosted by your own city.

We dig: New Orleans

For its: Delicious Southern and Creole cuisine, outrageously good live music, lively bars, and gorgeous antebellum architecture.

But it’s not Denver because: On a summer morning our city doesn’t have to endure overpowering heat and humidity that cook up a mean combination of B.O., vomit, urine, and stale beer to create that ever-present eau de French Quarter.

We dig: New York City

For its: World-class cultural institutions, diverse population, Central Park, and restaurants and bars that stay open until dawn.

But it’s not Denver because: We don’t have to play Frogger with taxicabs and suited-up professionals as we make our way to, well, anywhere.

We dig: Chicago

For its: Unwavering commitment to its professional sports teams, passion for naming food after the city, surprising street-level cleanliness, and access to lakes the size of oceans.

But it’s not Denver because: Unlike those living in Chi-town, we can drive 30 minutes outside of the city and find ourselves completely engulfed in nature. 

We dig: Los Angeles

For its: Bohemian-meets-chic style, evolving arts scene, ladies with sun-kissed skin year round, and land-of-possibility idealism.

But it’s not Denver because: You can walk down the street here and take a deep breath. Yup, that’s crisp, fresh mountain air you’re inhaling.

We dig: Atlanta

For its: Authentic Southern hospitality, killer fried chicken, hip-hop music scene, and young people who still believe it’s just good manners to say “Yes, ma’am” and “Yes, sir.”

But it’s not Denver because: The Mile High City is comparatively safe—meaning you don’t have to look over your shoulder when you’re walking to your car after dinner.

We dig: San Francisco

For its: Breathtaking panoramic vistas, genuine diversity, groundbreaking California cuisine, ridiculous cultural scene, and proximity to the beach.

But it’s not Denver because: Our summers are actually warm, our homeless population is somewhat under control, and Sports Authority Field makes Candlestick Park look like a bad joke.

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39 Because it’s not Boulder.

OK, look: We like Boulder. It’s got the Flatirons and Pearl Street and the university and great restaurants and shops and the best farmers’ market around. It’s also got that unmistakable People’s Republic vibe, a mystique derived from a long history of being the preferred home of America’s extra-crunchy liberal set. Boulder is sexy; it’s a brand name. It’s one of the original purveyors of cool. Yet, we wouldn’t want to live there. No, we’d rather live outside those famous 25 square miles, in a land we like to call “reality.” That may seem boring and practical and lame. And maybe it is. But lower-density living, cheaper real estate, an international airport, access to more than one major highway, fewer drunken undergrads roaming our neighborhood streets, and a less politically charged atmosphere make the Mile High City approachable—and, to us, that’s superdesirable in a down-to-earth, girl-next-door kinda way.

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