Thursday, July 14, 2005

Downtown Denver

I spent last night in downtown Denver, a place I have been several times before. The transition of downtown spaces from hellish pits 15 years ago to happening and expensive places to be is fascinating. Denver is a good example. I know that several years ago it was truly terrible but the 16th Street Mall has revitalized the area and all kinds of new lofts and apartments are going up in the area for high prices.

Denver's downtown is obviously much improved over the past and I think it is better than some other downtown revitalization I have seen. It is one of the only examples where a new baseball stadium actually did what its creators claimed, that is bring businesses and people back to downtown. Coors Field has been so successful at this that the team is now fairly irrelevant to the long-term success of the area. I also like the transition back to living downtown, both in Denver and other cities. I loathe sprawl and suburbia for so many reasons so I am naturally inclined to prefer dense urban living. While I'm concerned about the exorbitant prices for these places, they are nice, they do bring people back, and they show that downtown can and is a desirable place for a lot of people to live.

While I like much of what Denver has done, it also epitomizes some of what I am uncomfortable with. A friend that I met down there last night said something like, "Welcome to our version of San Diego." So many of these downtowns have become a sort of glorified strip mall with all the same stores in all the downtowns. Have to have the Banana Republic and the Gap. Hard Rock Cafe is a must. Nike Town is highly desirable. And so on. These stores both eviscerate the local uniqueness of downtowns and ensure the sort of importation of suburban shopping malls back into downtown. If Denver is trying to copy San Diego, then Albuquerque is copying Denver, and much to the same sanitized, white bread, and well, just white effect. Maybe the best part about downtown Denver is its fairly unique (for the West) architecture and the ways that the remaining old buildings transform the businesses inside of them. The worst is when the chain stores transform or completely obliterate the building itself to fashion something to its own liking.

To Denver's credit, they are trying to ensure some low-cost housing for its homeless population rather than just evict them from the area. This has been slow and too long in coming, but it is happening.