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Photo courtesy of Colorado Village Collaborative
9 Reasons to Love Denver in 2021

Reasons to Love Denver 2021: Acts of Compassion

It’s been a pivotal past year for Denver, as the city faced overlapping crises and began to reckon with harmful parts of its past. But Denverites still found ways to show their neighbors they care.

1. Because we know when it’s time to name-drop.

Naming is power. And this past year, Denverites used it to reckon with the racist legacies that plague our city, one local symbol at a time. From Sunnyside’s La Raza Park (the moniker bestowed on what was Columbus Park is a nod to the area’s history as a center of Chicano activism) to Denver South High School’s new Raven mascot (formerly the Rebels), we are finally acknowledging that everyday places and symbols can be (not so) hidden harbors for hate.

Although a high school mascot and a beloved park are touchstones in righting past wrongs, the highest-profile shift came when the Stapleton neighborhood—so dubbed for Ku Klux Klan member and former Denver Mayor Benjamin Stapleton—became Central Park. The change was decades in the making. “It’s really important for us to tell the truth about history,” says Liz Stalnaker, board chair of the nonprofit Rename St*pleton for All committee, who says the change was a necessary first step. “The marketing of a neighborhood under the name of a Klansman was a way of whitewashing [history].” For Stalnaker, these labels are a reminder of how Denver must continue to confront the ways its racist history still impacts residents through redlining and unaffordability. “We have so much more work to do.” —Madi Skahill

2. Because we learned how to tame Texans.

Illustration by Ryan Johnson

Self-love is important. But to be worshipped by others, especially when those others are from the self-righteously smug Lone Star State? That’s simply divine. In 2019, that worship translated into Denver’s best tourism year ever, with $7 billion flooding in mostly from Californians and, yes, Texans. During the pandemic, droves of Texans continued to vacation in Colorado because, well, our state is (still) better than theirs. The only trouble was teaching that pack of wildcatters how to behave in a civilized society. Unsurprisingly, Denver wasn’t the only city that got creative with its etiquette lessons. —Spencer Campbell 

Will You Accept This Mask?
On March 2, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ended his state’s mask mandate. Luckily, the Denver-based Colorado Tourism Office was ready to tell Texans that willful disregard for humankind ended at our border. Their “Do Colorado Right” ad campaign had local celebrities like Bachelor vet Ben Higgins teach tourists how to behave during a pandemic—since they didn’t learn their manners at home.

A Dose Of Perspective
In August, members of the invading Texan horde vandalized an Aspen city limit sign by slapping a “Texas” sticker over the municipality’s name. The act of mischief had many fans, including the Aspen Police Department, which addressed the criminal in question via Facebook: “We friggin’ love you. That’s the best thing we’ve seen since the world fell apart. And if it bothers you, call up Amazon and order a sense of humor.”

All Dressed Up
Texans poured into Durango for spring break 2021; cell phone data in La Plata County revealed that visitors increased from 15 percent to 40 percent of the population in most of March, and the majority were from Texas and Texas Jr. (aka Oklahoma). So local businesses and the tourism office hired actors wearing Western getups—think: town marshal—to patrol the streets, espousing the virtues of covering up to unmasked bandits.

3. Because the STAR program showed us how to actually serve and protect.

Criminal justice reform advocates have had their eyes on Denver’s Support Team Assistance Response (STAR) pilot program, which, for the past 13 months, has diverted 911 calls related to mental health and substance misuse from the Denver Police Department to a team of health care workers trained to handle them. Two-person civilian teams—consisting of a paramedic and a mental health professional—respond to low-level incidents in hopes of connecting people to services like shelters, food aid, and counseling, while rerouting police response to where it’s actually needed: violent crime. Here’s a look at the first 10 months of the STAR program, which will expand its services in the fall to the northeast and southwest parts of town. —Corinne Anderson

0: Arrests
1,181: Emergency calls responded to
10,000: Estimated calls that will be diverted annually after the program expands this year
60: Percentage of calls related to mental health
70: Percentage of STAR clients who were experiencing homelessness
$1.4 million: Money allocated in the city of Denver’s general fund for the program in 2021

4. Because the city (finally) exhibited a little compassion in addressing homelessness.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many public and social health issues, including worsening Denver’s ongoing housing crisis. Even as city officials opened auxiliary shelters at the National Western Complex and the Denver Coliseum, informal campsites sprang up across downtown. Local nonprofit Colorado Village Collaborative (CVC) brought forth an innovative (for Denver) solution: safe-camping sites where people could securely live outside, socially distanced and with access to critical services. “They’re rapidly deployable, cheap to start up, and much more dignified,” says CVC executive director Cole Chandler. “[They’re] a critical resource during this crisis.” The city initially balked at the idea, but Mayor Michael Hancock, who had previously vocalized his skepticism of such programs, finally expressed his support in July 2020.

Things got moving after that. CVC quickly opened two Safe Outdoor Spaces in church parking lots in Capitol Hill in December. Then, in February, Denver’s City Council allocated $900,000 to help fund two outdoor shelter locations. In June, CVC’s original locations combined into one site in South Park Hill; a second venue is in the works. At full capacity, these camps can serve 100 individuals. Residents live in ice fishing tents outfitted with heated blankets and floor pads and have access to mobile showers, electricity, and meals. The venues are staffed 24/7, and every resident is connected to on-site wraparound services, including health care and employment referrals. Couples are able to live together and individuals can keep their pets—both forbidden at area shelters. There have been zero COVID-19 cases among residents and staff. At least seven residents have moved into tiny homes, while numerous others have been added to housing application lists and have found jobs. Hancock believes these sites are a way to “fill a gap” in housing. “They’re making a big difference,” he said of the spaces. —Daliah Singer

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