It soothes my jagged state of mind at the end of a work day to pass through Cheesman Park on my way home. The effect is consistent and palpable even during the winter months and even when the view is …
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It soothes my jagged state of mind at the end of a work day to pass through Cheesman Park on my way home. The effect is consistent and palpable even during the winter months and even when the view is through my windshield.
Sometimes I walk—overdressed and on a beeline but soaking in the scene nonetheless. The vitality and colorfulness of the scene presented by all of the varied types of people and others using the park is impressive.
As I approach southbound on Franklin Street, the park’s presence is predicted by the trail of intrepid runners that are part of the drinking/running club based in a fine Irish bar on Colfax Avenue.
The French painter Georges Seurat comments on the artificiality and posturing of Parisian society of the time in “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.” The painting may be the most famous ever of a park scene.
Denver’s parks are more than a place for dogs to relieve themselves. Cycling and volleyball, mainstay park activities for decades, are thriving. Hula hoops, bean bags and ever-more-artful-and-athletic Frisbee play spice the mix.
Capitol Hill, with its higher-density living, needs parks. The developing world, with populations exploding exponentially (have a look at the alarming illustrations by National Geographic) have no choice but to create ever more dense cities. Thinking people are mostly sick of long commutes to work that corrode away their time on this earth while staring at brake lights and truck balls.
Dense living is not a bad thing but the humane, dignified version requires that a smaller dwelling disconnected from the ground have the surrounding support system of a healthy city. Why not swap the hungry iron beast for a pair of running shoes? It’s complicated, but the issues with commuting are much less about the arteries of massive roadways and more about the healthy tissue of the city and the urban landscape. When the tissue is more versatile and accommodating, the long trek from workplace to housing on the fringe is no longer the only option as it is now for many people.
Affordability remains the key factor. We need to work toward still more housing choices within the urban core.
The choice to improve the quality and capacity of public open space is one of the easier choices that face Capitol Hill. This is for civilization as much as recreation. Actively living in the larger public realm creates well-equipped citizens in a way that nothing else will. We need to know and affect one another. We need to become socially resilient and, above all, we need to be unafraid of one another.
Shopping is increasingly privatized and stratified. Places such as the 16th Street Mall are subtly demonized. Commercial forces have become a profoundly segregating influence. Public open space still has a quotient of democracy and it’s more precious and more useful than ever.
The Capitol Hill neighborhood is that system—a kind of urban ecosystem. Parks design is as sophisticated an art form as any other. Design, spending priorities and management are implemented through public policy. In Denver, there can be significant citizen participation and honest dialogue.
The basic conceptions of Capitol Hill open space track social conventions and priorities quite precisely over time. That layering and interwoven quality is a rich legacy, and each generation has its moment to add their particular preferences to the mix. The food cart program in Civic Center represents one of our moments. The multivalent benefits and cultural content of that relatively simple idea have broad implications and, again, it’s not all just for fun. Public space is a medium and it conveys things—scenes, voices and attitudes back and forth. It presents strangers to one another.
I was struck by the colors and movement of people as they spread over all of what I could see of Cheesman Park as I slowed and moved along a curved entry drive. The late afternoon light illuminated the planting and the people in the most flattering and vivid way. We often say about children in our hyper-controlled society that they need a place where they can run loose, make noise, fall down, roll around and laugh aloud where no one is keeping score. Of course, the same is true of adults, but we largely neglect that need. This is not just to abandon conventions of controlled behavior but to purge those toxins in the back of our minds and deep in our lungs.
A park is among the very few places where free and uninhibited behavior is okay.
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