With denverization now becoming a thing, and some surrounding states complaining of our contagious beige, short-sighted, development overflowing to them, Denver is at a crossroads of deciding what the future of Denver will look like?
Fortunately, if you look hard enough, there are some cracks in Denver’s denverization, that point towards it’s history of embracing beautiful long-term design aesthetics that placed people first, instead of trying to get as many cars past the front of our houses as possible.
Kinda like witnessing a gigantic dinosaur bone at the museum, this intersection at the corner of Ogden and 11th outside Park Tavern (and the former Whole Foods), always gets me thinking of what once was and how different of an environment Capitol Hill must have been in its early 1900s glory. If you look closely, there are some uncannily parallel, curved cracks in the road leading from 11th to Ogden. They are just about the width of a train track, and placed in the center of the road right where an ideal streetcar might have been placed. If I was a betting man, I would think that some short sighted Denver city council reps simply decided to pave over the tram tracks largely at the bequest of General Motors lobbying and dubious market manipulation in the 1940s and 50s…
A quick look at Ryan Keeney’s streetcar map reveals that was the exact route of Denver’s old streetcar through Capitol Hill towards what is today Cherry Creek. Any chance Denver city council might pay to get these tracks re-revealed? If not for actual use, allowing denverites to see what was previously possible with less than a third (250k in 1917) of it’s current population and a fraction of the resources, might inspire some good conversation on how we might be able to re-realize a city not so dependent on the automobile, while enhancing our city economically, environmentally, and socially.
Denver and Cap Hill in the 1880s and 90s housed 17 of Colorado’s very few Millionaires (largely from the mining booms) and was a grand place with bucolic streets everywhere you looked. Thanks to decades of Denver’s temperamental climate, and asphalt proving not as durable as the underlying brick pavers, there exists a small section of the original exposed brick streetscape that can give an idea of what the neighborhood might have looked like in it’s original prime. It is located 3 quarters of the block up from 16th as you head towards 17th street on the east side of Ogden. In what I think can only be a chance miracle of Denver not immediately paving back over it, and it also being so nicely exposed after layers of concrete and asphalt have been added and torn off over the decades, to my knowledge, it is the only example of it’s kind in Denver…
In person, even with it’s century of service, the old paved lattice boasts rich red and purple brick, and has an instant authenticity that lies in stark contrast to the cracked withering asphalt haphazardly patched and laid next to it. Interestingly, when it snows, this section rarely builds ice thanks to the water dissipating through the brick lattice, and unlike the asphalt streets doesn’t require a large curve to push the water to the sides. In a lot of ways it is strikingly beautiful and hints towards a lifestyle without 2 ton cars and roads needing replacing every year.
The last picture I have is of a humble alley, that isn’t exceptionally spectacular except for it’s remarkably compact size next to 2 nice looking old brick houses. The small scale of the alley hints towards a more human scale development style that prioritized walking distances and convenience over 20′ clear regulations for ever increasingly large fire trucks through the years due to backward policies from lobbyists and self-preserving fire department budgets.
This one near 7th and Clarkson, is the smallest alley I’ve seen in Denver, and reminds me that large streets, side setbacks, and separation of neighbors isn’t actually needed/required and is in many ways at a disadvantage to the very beautiful and practical person-oriented development observable above. Despite our zoning code forcing us towards the larger more suburban development of the last 50 years, compact, walkable, development boasts considerable advantages if only it were allowed today amidst Denver’s new denverization.