Our 18 wishes—ranging from realistic to far-fetched—for making Denver an even dreamier place to live.
We love Denver. There are killer bars and top-notch restaurants, our neighbors are friendly, and the snow melts before we have to worry about driving in it. But no place is perfect, right? Which made us think: If we could change a few things around the Mile High City, what would we request? Here, our 18 wishes—ranging from realistic to far-fetched—for making Denver an even dreamier place to live.
A 16th Street Mall we can be excited about
The 5280 offices sit just off the 16th Street Mall in LoDo, so perhaps few people better understand the merits and shortcomings of downtown’s main drag. In recent years, an influx of restaurants and construction at Union Station have made the west end more respectable. Construction on a high-rise office/apartment building with street-level retail near Market Street Station will extend the mini renaissance slightly farther east. But unless we’re catching a movie at the Pavilions, we rarely travel past Arapahoe. Why? Because the city’s central promenade needs a serious face-lift, one that will transform the 16-block missed opportunity into something we can be proud of. We took a five-block section and gave it an imaginary overhaul.
The New 16th Street Mall 1. Shoe store 2. Dress shop 3. Menswear boutique 4. Kids’ clothing store 5. Independent sports bar 6. Power breakfast spot 7. Apple Store 8. Colorado Limited cart 9. In-N-Out Burger 10. Argonaut Wine & Liquor 11. Garbanzo’s Mediterranean Grill 12. Roasted nut cart 13. Trompeau Bakery 14. Modmarket 15. Sports Authority 16. Microbrewery 17. Soupz On 18. Additional food carts 19. Newsstand 20. Seating for outdoor dining 21. Masterpiece Delicatessen 22. Yoga studio 23. Drop-in day care 24. Revolution Cleaners 25. Boutique hotel above Rock Bottom Brewery 26. Nordstrom Rack 27. An affordable salon 28. Frijoles Colorado Cuban Cuisine 29. Whole Foods deli 30. CityTarget 31. Boxcar Coffee Roasters 32. Tailor 33. U.S. post office
Better downtown parking options
Problem: Overnight lots force you to move your car by 6 a.m.
Solution: Change the kick-out time to 8 a.m. because, unless you’re a trash collector or headed up to the mountains for a powder day, you probably aren’t up that early. Parking lot operators take note: We’d be willing to pay an extra buck for the more humane wake-up call.
Problem: Surface lots are eyesores with too few spaces to make them worth it.
Solution: Build architecturally interesting parking garages—preferably with aesthetically pleasing retail space on the ground level—on those sites. This would make LoDo even more bike- and pedestrian-friendly by moving cars off the street and reducing the number of cars going ’round and ’round in search of a spot.
Problem: Two-hour meters are just too damn short. It stresses us out to watch the clock during meetings, only to rush outside and find a yellow envelope stuck in our windshield.&
Solution: This is a transparent cash-grab by the city, and it sucks. Perhaps in some areas we could consider upping the time limit to four hours.
The Radical Idea
Ban all motorized vehicles other than taxis, buses, and delivery trucks from the city center, expand the 16th Street MallRide and light rail in several directions—such as along Speer Boulevard and toward Capitol Hill, RiNo, and LoHi—and erect ample parking garages around the perimeter so people can drive, park, and walk or ride to their downtown destinations.
Drive times that make sense
From perpetual construction on I-70 (and I-25 and U.S. 36 and I-225…) to frustratingly inconsistent routes within the metro area (it often takes longer to get from Park Hill to Wash Park than from Park Hill to Broomfield), driving around Denver seems unreasonably unpredictable. To make sure it wasn’t all in our heads, we traveled six routes to Union Station from the same location in Park Hill at 8 a.m. Which one was the quickest?
Green lights everywhere you look
You know that rare sensation of flying you get when you’re driving and you hit green light after green light? It’s like an open invitation to wherever you’re going. More often, though, we experience the infuriating opposite as we drive along any of the city’s main arteries. Every motorist thinks he or she has a strategy (speeding up, cutting you off) for beating the system, but Matt Wager, director of traffic engineering services in Denver’s Department of Public Works, says those efforts hinder rather than help. Here, his three tips for a smoother trip.
Follow the herd: Traffic lights are set up to keep the traffic flowing into downtown in the morning and out of the city in the evening. Don’t fight the natural flow if you can help it.
Know areas to avoid: Using roads with a lot of busy intersections (think: Colfax) lessens your chances of stacking up greens. Why? The side streets are outfitted with light-changing technology that disrupts traffic on the main artery to let cars and bikes cross.
Don’t speed: Traffic signals are timed to allow cars to move through a handful of greens before being stopped. The programming only works if you go the speed limit. Blow through one red to save time, and you’ll likely get stopped at the next one.
More integrated neighborhoods
I’m about as pasty white as you can be (thanks, Irish ancestors). And I grew up in North Dakota, one of the least racially diverse areas in the country. But then I lived in New York City, and I traveled, and I fell in love with a more diverse world that didn’t reflect my skin tone or my cultural background. The genetic and social palettes were full of color, and I found that diversity to be beautiful.
When I moved to Denver that full spectrum disappeared from my life—or so I thought. In reality, the problem is that the Mile High City is segregated. Yes, it’s a loaded word—but it’s regrettably accurate. Denver County boasts a population that’s 31.8 percent Hispanic (the national average is 16.3 percent) and 10.2 percent African-American (it’s 12.6 percent nationwide), but driving through neighborhoods like Wash Park and Cherry Creek, you’d never know it. Look at a map of Denver’s racial demographics and it’s easy to see the insulation. Metro Denver: primarily Caucasian. But take a turn into the northern reaches of Park Hill and you’ll find a Hispanic and black populace. Cruise down Federal Boulevard and you’ll see largely Hispanic neighborhoods. Suddenly, you gain a very different perspective of what Denver looks like. Our city isn’t without diversity—we’ve just cloistered it.
There isn’t a magic solution to this problem. And it’s difficult to talk about the causes—poverty, education, class, to name just a few—but it’s time to start a conversation, which is a good place to begin solving almost any problem. In the meantime, get outside of your neighborhood and experience all the diverse characters Denver has to offer. —NG
We'd like to start the much-needed conversation about diversifying our neighborhoods here. Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.