That was how I began the introduction to the two editions of A Guide to Denver Architecture. And I believe this is still true.
So, when I retired last year from a job located in the south metro area, I realized I needed to get the city of Denver back in my head. It’s where I live, but I felt disconnected. But my head wondered what was happening here. My head resisted, and for good reason.
I was impressed with classy new office buildings, well-designed new hotels, admirable new education buildings, and superb new museums. Fine. I was pleased that architects had been chosen to design to the best of their abilities, despite escalating demands. But what my head had to process was the cheesy-looking (but colorful!) five-story apartment buildings that tried so hard to be cool, but wound up predicting a pretty short life span. They looked as if they had been made of foam, just waiting to crumble.
When I drove through Denver’s neighborhoods – always one of the city’s biggest strengths – I realized that many “typical” homes had been scraped for or subsumed by behemoths: extreme, vertical duplexes and triplexes that replaced one home on one lot. Some had merit, but others were ungainly. And when I looked at the slot homes, all I could think was: I know Denver’s zoning code changed years ago, but who decided to start maximizing profits while ignoring a sense of community? They are an affront to our senses.
With a booming population, people were hungry for homes or apartments that regular people could afford; instead, they have been confronted with luxury building after luxury building. Historic and familiar buildings have been threatened or re-cladded to perk them up, as if they no longer had value. Or, they’ve been scraped because they can be scraped. In the process, people in established neighborhoods have had to leave Denver. They can’t afford this place, whether it is because of soaring prices or taxes. So they moved, taking their history, culture and wisdom with them.
So, Denver – a city for rich people? Homes and apartment blocks – not designed, but engineered with a computer program, moving doors and windows around with a mouse to save money for developers who don’t live with what they have created. But we have to live with it.
One afternoon, after doing a dismal drive through Denver’s Northside and Westside, I pulled over and shut off the engine, and thought about what I had seen. I said to myself: Denver, what the hell happened to you?
And I don’t think I’m alone.
Okay, so you might be thinking: Hey, change happens. I know that. Denver has reinvented itself over and over, for better and worse. But change has to have meaning, and much of the change in Denver – actually, in the entire metro area – has little meaning, in terms of seeking excellence. Just money: taking advantage of the goose that laid the golden egg, but is it really gold? What about people, and good design? And why didn’t any officials try to make a plan for growth when it became apparent that the city was welcoming a huge influx of new residents? There’s a new Denver Blueprint plan out for review, but it seems like too little, and too late.
So this blog was born. If you read it – thanks! If you hate it, let me know. If you have an idea – or news — really let me know.
Finally, the introduction to the 2013 guidebook still echoes – and is still true, up to a point:“In the end, though, Denver has grown and, in some ways, matured. It can claim a history rich in evolution, failures and successes. Begun in 1858 on the banks of Cherry Creek, Denver fits into the category of ‘instant city.’ There really was no reason for this place to exist except as a center to serve those heading into the region west to get rich or get away. And there was no reason for it to grow except for the commitment of its residents to a better life.”
I don’t think that is happening now.