The city we need, and not the city we have.

X Denver times 3 Screen Shot 2020-05-19 at 10.59.49 AM

The past 10 days have been so interesting in Denver, with a mega-project booted out by the Denver City Council because there was not enough affordable housing (among other things), a City Charter meeting yesterday with members of the City Council to discuss what to do with the fate of the Park Hill Golf Course (which seems a legal issue), and the numerous articles about giant towers that keep moving along, if slowly during a time when it is the height of frivolity. 

After all, even with a huge group of wealthy Denver and metro residents, are there enough people to actually rent or buy into these shiny towers? 

Even after reading so many stories, what really made an impression was the Opinion section this past Sunday in The New York Times, although those stories were online a week before. This section is all about cities — mainly like big cities such as New York. Contributors addressed schools, births, density, homelessness, and more. But the one article that rang true was a piece about greed in the Bronze Age. Don’t laugh: Annalee Newitz understands the roots in the beginning of Western civilization in the Bronze Age, which is our foundation.

Writes Newitz, focusing on the cities of Ugarit and Mycenae and their disastrous fall: 

“But the Bronze Age was also a time of extreme inequality. Cities were ruled by wealthy urban aristocrats who controlled trade, relied on various kinds of forced labor, and placed heavy tax burdens on their client states and agricultural villages. When times got hard, the commoners in Ugarit and Mycenae felt the squeeze.

“Historians and archaeologists don’t know all the reasons these cities collapsed. But there is evidence that both burned to the ground in the 1100s B.C.E., their sumptuous palaces toppled and abandoned. There are signs of earthquakes, too. For centuries after these events, there are almost no written records. It was as if literacy and culture evaporated along with the kingdoms themselves.”

Now, it is hard to imagine that cities in this nation will be set on fire for the issue of inequality, or that records will be wiped away, though many of us still remember the 1960s.

But face it, many cities need to shake off the greed, the over-building, and the squeeze of housing that is not just unaffordable but inhumane. Gentrification has made its mark, alone with up-zoning, impetuous area plans, and more. This is so Denver.

To begin, there is the issue of how to deal with the Park Hill Golf Course, one of the most tangled economic situations in a while, when a developer purchased the 155-acre site  from the Clayton Trust. Apparently, the conservation easement on that land didn’t come up for discussion, until it did. The easement was put in place by the city years ago, and to make it a park, the city would need to buy the land and make it no longer a golf course. But surely the developer has other plans.

Yesterday’s City Council meeting was held to discuss City Charter issues. Originally some members wanted to find a way to put this issue to voters in the November election. But that didn’t wash. Instead, attorneys for the city and other entities will need to figure this out. The meeting at times was a bit contentious, but the more uncomfortable situation was the fact that city planners are working on an area plan even before things are straightened out.  Here are links to the City Charter meeting:

Then, the Denver City Council in a May 11 meeting did something really interesting: It was a close vote, but the council basically said that adding 10% of affordable units (at a high AMI), in a building of 650 units just didn’t work for the city. Both sides want affordability, but coming from different perspectives. It also didn’t sit well when there was a rail line and spur only about 40 feet away from the project. 

The most important comment was from City Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval, who said, “If I looked at building an affordable Denver, 10 percent (of below-market units), although it is somewhat generous, during this time of COVID, I think all bets are off,” said Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval, who voted against the rezoning. “I think everything needs to be re-evaluated … I think housing projects that were once moving forward before March 16th need to be reevaluated because we will be getting out of COVID on the backs of my grandchildren.”

I’m sure she is not alone on this. 

Before I watched the meeting, I drove around the area that was supposed to host the new buildings, at two addresses on Denargo Street. That part of the city is industrial, with a lot of land away from other boom-town buildings.

Then, a friend emailed me about another project in the area, but south of the Park Avenue overpass, which heads to West 38th Avenue. These two giant towers, still under construction, are on Inca Street. They are named X Denver and X Denver 2; for some reason, X seems like a good name for these buildings.

The developer has come up with a new twist called X Social Communities. People can either rent an apartment or a bedroom. Each will be 12 stories, and a X Denver 3 in Arapahoe Square. My friend who emailed me said that one of the towers was taller than announced, but face it, would this be a surprise?

The image above is a new rendering of that part of Denver featured in BusinessDen. Talk about density. 

Finally, there was a recent story in the Denver Business Journal about a large development called Fox Park, covering 41 acres in Globeville. The best quote in the story is this: “We’re creating an area where not just people from the neighborhood, but people from across the city, can say, ‘What’s going on in Fox Park this weekend?'” the Vita Development Group representative told DBJ. Oh, gosh, who knows. 

Finally, there are links below to the Opinion section in the Times this past Sunday — with a final paragraph from the piece by Annalee Newitz:

“More than a thousand years before the Greeks invented democracy and the Romans undermined it with imperialism, these city-states of the Bronze Age laid the foundations for what is often called Western civilization. Homer recorded the myths of the Bronze Age in ‘The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey,’ and carved stone inscriptions of the pharaohs Hatshepsut and Thutmose III record the machinations of the Bronze Age elites. Although the rulers of the Bronze Age sometimes went to war, the true source of their power, like that of today’s biggest cities, was economic power secured through trade. The final decades of Ugarit and Mycenae tell us a lot about why cities fail — and who survives amid the ashes.”

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