Saturday, June 7, 2008

New City

So let me tell you how exciting it is to live in Denver now.

Last night we went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, which just opened its new building on 15th and Delgany. I'll write more about the MCA itself later, because right now I want to write about the view from the top of that building. It's fantastic. Just looking out to the north you see a landscape that didn't exist ten years ago. One of the farthest buildings in your view is Coors Field, which was completed just over ten years ago, and next to it you see the edge of Lower Downtown, and its collection of buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As you look to the west across the river, you see the Highlands neighborhood, marked by a Methodist church sitting on the top of the hill, looking down over the city. But when you look toward the foreground you see an entirely 21st century neighborhood. You see high-density, high-income housing rising up above the old railroad tracks. The light-rail snakes through the neighborhood, through a central park area and past a large suspension bridge. The entire picture, with its mixture of modern and old architecture, feels rather European -- as if we were a mid-sized urban area in Germany or Switzerland.

More exciting than the landscape is who is using the landscape. Kids are using the landscape. I think that this "kid-friendliness" is the most important indicator that you have built a city that works the way it is supposed to. The fact that kids are riding their bikes through the area -- at 8 pm on a Friday night, no less -- that mothers and daughters are popping into the MCA for twenty minutes before walking back home, means that the area is not only safe, but it is accessible to all, regardless of your vehicle, and its close to where people actually live. The really great part of all of this accessibility is that it isn't contrived. It is not a destination that was built just for families with kids, or for partiers or yuppies. It is a place built for people to live.

When I was growing up the city was a destination. It was far away and so was something you did as a family, as if you were going to Disneyland. It was a whole day activity, worthy of a picnic basket, and long hours spent in a museum -- many longer hours than you could stand before getting bored and cranky. But now, as I think back to that view from the top of the MCA, I see that we have a livable city. And not only is it livable, when you are living in it you are aware that you are living in the shadow of excellent architecture, and that you could just pop inside those buildings and be exposed to art and ideas.

I think back to the neighborhood I lived in when I was growing up, and thinking about what was available to us as children -- the mall, Skaggs Drugs, Big Apple Records. It was the landscape of suburban alienation. Consuming was the only activity you could do, unless it was an organized activity -- like sports, or children's theater, or church. Twenty years later, that neighborhood is exactly how it was when I grew up. It is a place of unlimited boredom -- of concentrated boredom. Working there now, I can't wait to leave at the end of the day -- not because of my job, but because the air is so stagnant, so cut off from any fresh breeze.

So when I look at Denver, I think, not bad for a cow town.

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