Cities are living things, and like all living things, cities are healthiest when they grow and evolve over time. Healthy cities adapt to the changing needs and desires of their residents. We want to see our city and our neighborhoods grow and change, but we want these changes to make our neighborhoods more livable, not less. We want changes that benefit us. We want growth that works for us.
For too long now, growth in Denver has been a ship without a rudder We feel helpless as dramatic change happens all around us, and specifically in neighborhoods that have been stable for decades. Denver’s leadership has accepted any and all development without considering how changes will impact the people who live here. It is time to reverse course - we need to stop reacting to growth and start directing it.
As your mayor, I will require that new growth in the city respect Denver’s people and its neighborhoods. That it respect families. That it respect our environment and meaningfully enhance our quality of life. New developments will have to integrate into our historic neighborhoods, enhancing Denver’s unique identity and assets. New development will be assessed based on how it adds value to our lives.
To make this happen, we need leadership and we need thoughtful planning. We also need the courage to require that new growth improve Denver’s quality of life and provides for the equitable economic prosperity of all our people. Denver’s leaders and its citizens must work hand in hand to chart a new course forward. Growth in our city must bend to the will of the people.
As your mayor I will:
Channel development to where it makes sense and can be supported
For the past two years, the City of Denver has been pushing ahead on updates to our Comprehensive Plan through the Denveright planning process. This massive 1,600-page package has nearly 500 recommendations and no implementation plan. It opens the doors to density everywhere in the city, and it doesn’t prioritize transit or contemplate growth’s environmental consequences. It is severely disconnected from Denver’s values and vision of itself. I have therefore called for a pause to plan implementation to ensure we understand its impacts and make the necessary changes to get it right. It is alarming that our planning and development have become so disconnected from our actual needs. As your mayor I will:
● Reposition the City’s Office of Community Planning and Development to truly be about Community (and not just Planning and Development). It is unacceptable to approach growth with a one-size-fits-all mentality. Some of our neighborhoods have been inundated by development, some welcome additional growth, and some have been left behind entirely. By being thoughtful and nuanced in our approach, we will build bridges with our residents and business owners by pursuing a truly collaborative process to determine what’s right for their neighborhood.
● Allow density where it’s wanted and where it can be adequately supported and managed. We can accommodate growth in areas of our city that are ripe for density and redevelopment, where it doesn’t threaten community or historical context. These zones include former industrial areas and areas along major transportation corridors. Step one, however, is to catch up with our existing growth by building intra-city transit, reigning in ongoing construction impacts to our streets, and adding substantial affordable housing units. This is thoughtful development - not development at all costs.
● Focus on making sure the core of Denver works for everyone. The current administration has positioned development at the airport as a major focus of the next four years. It is folly to funnel our resources to building new subdivisions from scratch when we are a long way from solving the challenges in our city core, in our 78 historic and diverse neighborhoods. Adding sprawl is not the answer, doubling down on quality of life investments in our existing communities is.
Bring the City to the neighborhoods
The City’s best possible partners are its neighborhoods and residents. Increasingly, however, Denver’s communities have been cut off from easy-to-access information on issues, programs and policies. The City needs to get back into the neighborhoods, with their eyes on the ground and working with stakeholders to clearly identify challenges and develop community-based solutions. As your mayor I will:
● Open city planning and engagement offices in every council district, with designated City staff to be a champion for neighborhood-based issues. We will appoint planners to work with community who understand neighborhood character, neighborhood movement patterns and desired paths, and neighborhood amenity needs among other things. These staff will be versed in our neighborhood histories as well as demographics, identities and cultures. We will require elected City Council members to office in their districts with accessible office hours. We will allow and encourage customization of planning, policies and toolboxes to uniquely address neighborhood needs.
● Strengthen the Registered Neighborhood Organization (RNO) system. The RNO systems allows us as a city to connect to individual neighborhoods and enable cooperation between residents, neighborhood leaders and city staff and elected officials. When the RNO system was established in Denver, it was a very effective and collaborative tool to work on neighborhood issues. In our recent administration, this partnership has deteriorated to a transactional one. I value RNO’s unique ability to represent their local community’s diverse needs, work with city agencies to find creative solutions, and hold the city accountable. I’m committed to a refresh and strengthening of the RNO program, and to a stronger partnership with the Denver Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC) that supports the RNOs.
● Involve neighborhood residents, small business owners, civic groups and institutions early and often. Neighborhood RNOs can be the best pathway to engage community, but the City also has a responsibility to meet the community where they are to learn about the impacts of City policy on their lives. This means establishing trust and treating community with respect, always. It means holding regular meetings with community, not just in times of crisis. It means acting on and implementing feedback in due time. We will not be distracted by contrarians or those opposed to any/all change, but rather will focus on facilitating all viewpoints thoughtfully and ensuring we get to the best outcomes by finding common ground.
Ensure neighborhoods have the amenities and resources they need
We have to look at each of our neighborhoods as an ecosystem - do they have access to transit, to attainable housing at varying levels, to green space and parks, to schools, to services, to recreation centers and libraries? When we have healthy neighborhoods, we have a healthy city, but we have work to do to get there citywide. As your mayor I will:
● Expedite individual neighborhood planning. Many of our neighborhoods haven’t had updated neighborhood plans for 20+ years. A few years ago, the City of Denver launched a neighborhood planning process, but the process isn’t expected to be complete for another 15-20 years for all neighborhoods. This is far too late. We must expedite neighborhood planning to ensure we understand neighborhood needs NOW. We’ll facilitate this through the community-based planning offices, effective communications and outreach, and support from the RNOs. Silent government is negligent government, and we can’t let our neighborhoods wait.
● Implement design requirements citywide. We can protect our neighborhood's character and demand that new development does the same for us. I believe in protecting the fabric of historic neighborhoods, ensuring the past is alive in the present, and embracing the vitality of new construction in a way that supports it. Neighborhoods should have zoning and design support that respects their individual identity. I’m committed to achieving this through zoning-based solutions that provide clear expectations for both community and developers.
● Ensure developers give back via on-site benefits to the community via Community Benefit Agreements. Good, managed growth means requiring more out of developers when and where they build. It means ensuring they give back to community, not take from it. I will ensure we have good standards for community development agreements in place - agreements that have benefits crafted by and for the neighborhoods. These could include requirements for open space, for affordable and attainable housing or for neighborhood serving amenities for example. These agreements will have specific, demonstrable requirements, and developments won’t get green-lighted until a contract between the city, the developer and the neighborhood is signed.