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Impressions of Denver


August, 1991


August 8-12, 1999


October 23-25, 2003

I first visited Denver, Colorado in the Summer of 1991, traveling through on my way to Texas.  The city seemThe Capitol Buildinged cozy, without much sprawl.  I was taken aback by the stunning architecture of the capitol buildings and the fairly laid back pace.  I didn't have opportunity to spend much time there, as we were just passing through.  I always wanted to come back someday. 

Eight years later, Sandra headed out there with her friend, Banu, to visit Banu's sister, Ece, and Ece's husband Tim.  Sandra had difficulty breathing the thin air at first, but grew accustomed to it during her stay.  She had long talked about wanting to move to Denver, sight unseen, and was excited about her visit.  They visited beautiful Rocky Mountain Park, and hit Six Flags amusement park for some bungee jumping and fun.  When she returned, she stated that she no longer wanted to move there, though she thought it was nice.  Visit our Photo Gallery for photos of her trip!

It was another four years before I had opportunity to visit again.  Our neighbors, Dawn and Matt, were formerly of Denver and spoke highly of it, so naturally Sandra now wanted to move there again.  I even went so far as to apply for my Professional Land Surveyor's Exam in the state of Colorado, which is what brought me there this day.  The city bore little resemblance to the one I had visited twelve years earlier. 

Upon arrival at Denver International Airport, one is immediately struck by the stunning layout and size of the new airport.  It is by far the nicest, newest, and most impressive airport I have ever set foot in.  The signage could use a little work, but the facilities are simply top-notch. 

After picking up my rental car from Dollar, I was taken aback by the massive new Pena Boulevard, which leads from the airport to the freeways.  The huge, six-lane road seemed like a freeway, not an airport access road.  This seems to have become a common theme in Denver.  The city is the most extreme case of sheer urban sprawl I've seen, and I've been to Los Angeles! 

The first thing I noticed about Denver is that it is just really, really big.  The sprawl stretches out as far as the eye can see, and you don't know when you leave Denver and enter another city, like Aurora or Greenwood Village.   The second thing you notice is that it is really, really new.  Brand new roads, chain hotels, chain stores, chain restaurants, and look-alike subdivisions run for miles in all directions.  The entire city (outside of old town) looks like it was just built!  This also means it is very clean, very light, and very spacious, but quite devoid of character and very architecturally insignificant (with the exception of the capitol area). 

The roads are huge and expansive, and all the buildings are spaced far apart, with huge parking lots between them.  The buildings are set way back off the highways, making it difficult to see what you're passing as you drive by.  The whole effect is a feeling of vastness.  Everything is just really, really, spacious, big, and far apart.  The entire city, including the downtown area, revolves around the automobile.   Huge roads and huge blacktop parking lots fill the landscape, making for relatively easy commutes for me as I drove through town, but stripping the city of any coziness or intimacy.  Mass Transit was only visible downtown at the 16th street mall.  I never saw another bus, light rail, or bicyclist throughout the city.  Nobody was walking anywhere, with the exception of downtown, because it took too long to walk anywhere.

I visited the downtown area, and was thoroughly impressed (again) with the architecture of the legislative buildings and the very uniquely decorated Art Museum looks like it is surrounded in one of Michael Jackson's white gloves.   I drove up to the older parts of town and found wonderfully sculpted old houses that should have made for beautiful neighborhoods, instead they were poorly maintained and crumbling.  Denver could take a hint from a city like Helena, Montana, where all the houses from before the turn of the century are wonderfully maintained and make for a very picturesque downtown area.

I walked the famous 16th street "pedestrian" mall, to see what it was all about.  I was quite disappointed in this.  First of all, it isn't a pedestrian mall, it's a transit mall.  Buses run up and down the street constantly, and at every block there is a cross-street, making it nothing more than a couple of big sidewalks.   Instead of filling the area with unique restaurants and nightclubs, making it a destination for people to hang out and spend time, the strip is filled with chain stores, such as Walgreens, Rite-Aid, Casual Corner, and Athlete's Foot, with only a handful of restaurants and a few fast food joints.    On a Friday night at dinnertime, when the place should have been bustling with activity, the only activity was groups of transients and bus-riders yelling at each other.   Denver needs to take a look at a real pedestrian mall, like the Santa Monica Promenade or the Key West Pier to see what it takes to make a successful pedestrian mall.  Get the buses and traffic out of there, and fill it with places that people like to hang out and spend some time, instead of just spending a Saturday afternoon shopping at the same stores they can find in any other mall.  It's planning like this that causes the failure of so many pedestrian malls, just as it has in our hometown of Portland.  To see what makes a great town square, just head over to Europe sometime...

The weather during my visit was a balmy 85F, though it cooled down to below freezing at night.  The rockies were barely visible through all the Holiday Inn Express buildings, as the whole city is virtually flat.  I was hoping to find somewhere to take a good photo of the city, but without climbing up in a downtown building, that wasn't going to happen. 

Perhaps next visit, we will take a tour of the outlying areas of the state, and see if they are more to our liking.  There is obviously something about Denver that has attracted over two million people, and made it one of the fastest growing cities of the past decade, but we're just not sure what it is...  Each to their own, I suppose.


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