Columnist Sees Threats, Questions Park Committment

Ditmer: Protecting Denver’s parks and parkways

By Joanne Ditmer
The Denver Post

Denver’s parks and parkway system is priceless, an urban legacy
we enjoy daily yet take for granted. This magic trail of tree-lined
boulevards leads from park to park, neighborhood to neighborhood.
Founding fathers in 1859 envisioned spacious parks and elegant tree-
lined parkways tracing grand vistas on the grassy prairie, and parks
free for everyone, a cherished gift for 140 years.

We forget how fragile the integrity of the beautiful system is,
how vulnerable it is. Delayed maintenance, lax design standards,
lazily changing uses can be astonishingly destructive.

Denver has 35 designated parkways and boulevards, stretching over
60 miles, that are often seen as traffic routes rather than as an
extension of our park system. They have specific design guidelines,
but an erratic level of protection. Twenty-one parkways and boulevards
are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1955, the Parks Department was charged with managing parks and
designated parkways and boulevards, and making key recommendations for
acceptable levels of traffic, while Public Works was to maintain
roadway, construction and right of way. In 2005, the Parks Department
commissioned Mundus Bishop Design to do a study on designated parkways
and boulevards, resulting in an amazingly thorough report. Denver and
other places in Colorado tend to authorize studies that could be very
useful, but then do nothing with them.

The recommendations in both of these excellent reports should be
added to Denver’s new citywide zoning code.

Another threat: Mayor John Hickenlooper seems to see our 240
urban parks as real estate, and wants to use them to make money. For
several years, his administration has wanted to host admission-based
events, fencing off chunks of parks so private, for-profit businesses
can hold events there.

The city charter states, “No park or portion of any park
belonging to the City . . . shall be sold or leased at any time . . .
however may be leased for park purposes to concessionaires, to
charitable or non-profit organizations, or to governmental
jurisdictions . . . without the approval of a majority of those
registered electors in a special election.” How can this be ignored?

Denver’s parks have been free and open to all, and are magnets
for family gatherings or larger events for non-profit and community
groups. In 2009, City Park Pavillion had 132 events; Washington Park
Boathouse had 99; and Chief Hosa had 28. That year, 116 events were
community-based and had no charge, but the rest paid $127,404 to the
city. At other sites, 487 permits were issued for festivals, walks and
races, and special events, with a revenue of $1.1 million. These all
meet charter rules.

Next Tuesday, from 6 to 8 p.m., a public meeting will be held in
the Ricketson Auditorium at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
The meeting will address the proposal to allow Open Air Cinema into
City Park to show for-profit films for 30 days or more in 2011.

Then, on Aug. 12 at 5:30 p.m. in the Wellington Webb Building,
the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board will hold a public hearing on
its admission-based special events policy. It’s a crucial decision for
our city parks. You can have a say on whether they will be turned into
money-makers for private, for-profit groups.

I recently was at a mayoral event. The mayor greeted me, and I
said, “John, if you become governor, keep your hands off the 42 state
parks. People are worried.” Before he could answer, someone snagged
him for a photo. But when he left the event, he came by to tell me: “I
promise, if I become governor I won’t put admission-based private
events in the state parks.”

If only he had that commitment to our Denver parks.

Posted at:
July 30, 2010

Joanne Ditmer has been writing on environmental and urban issues for
The Post since 1962.

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