If your New Year’s resolution was to stop reading the relentlessly depressing coverage of our dysfunctional federal government, have I got a deal for you.
For at least the next four months, an array of candidates will be running for city office in Denver, and instead of stressing about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen or whether Elizabeth Warren — or any woman — has the slightest chance of being elected president in 2020, we can take a timeout and focus on problems in our neighborhoods.
And we have a few.
Now that Denverization is a dirty word across the country, let’s see what Penfield Tate III, Lisa Calderon, Jamie Giellis, incumbent Michael Hancock and the rest of the crowded field of candidates for mayor envision for the city’s future.
Let’s hold their feet to the fire.
Here’s a quick guide to gnarly questions for the mayoral hopefuls.
For starters, how will the candidates address the deaths of 233 people who were experiencing homelessness in Denver last year while construction of two-bedroom apartments that rent for $2,000 to $8,000 a month was booming?
Neighborhoods rail against plans that would increase density and yet the affordable housing shortage can’t be addressed unless we make room for more homes in our midst. Small, modestly priced houses increasingly are being bulldozed to make way for million-dollar McMansions that force working families out of the city. But how can we stop the gentrification?
Do you really tell retirees they can’t sell their nest egg to the highest bidder so that the character of the neighborhood might be preserved?
Where will teachers, cops, nurses and young people live? Which neighborhoods will be saved and which will be razed for another batch of generic high-rise apartment buildings?
Conflicts on this issue rage all across the city. But it’s not enough to merely gripe about the problem, and since any solution is bound to gore somebody’s ox, let’s see which candidate dares to take a stand.
Meanwhile, traffic problems are grinding away at our quality of life. The average Denver driver spent 36 hours mired in gridlock last year.
Some leaders have kicked around the idea of supplementing RTD buses and trains with additional city mass transit services and, since there’s no way to add both more housing and more city streets, what other options are there?
A Denver transit system could improve the coverage and frequency of service, but somebody has to pay for it and it won’t come cheap. Then again, how much is your city and your sanity worth to you?
Speaking of sanity, the city’s problems with addiction and untreated mental illness continue to defy solution. What can be done?
What about the influence of big money in local politics? What about sustainability? What about how cops respond to vulnerable communities?
And what about joy?
How do you create a city where even as the population keeps growing, a child can ride a bike to school safely or a family can have a quiet picnic in the park on a warm summer night?
Where a small neighborhood coffee shop can survive as a comfortable gathering place and kids swarm together after a snowstorm to go sledding and build snow forts.
Where differences are celebrated, and artists and creative people find acceptance, support and opportunity.
A city needs farmers markets, lemonade stands, walking paths, fountains to throw pennies into and neighbors who look out for one another.
It needs pride, personality, grit, fun and a really awesome celebration now and then.
In a culture that has become increasingly transactional, a city needs to offer a sense of identity and belonging, not just an investment opportunity.
So, the next time the candidates knock on your door or interrupt your dinner with a campaign phone call, don’t let them spin you. Hit them head-on with questions.
Make them tell you how they plan to un-Denverize Denver.
Before it’s too late.
Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.
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