"Hey, man, do you need some weed?" a young Hispanic man with a black eye asked What's So Funny as we strolled gingerly through Civic Center Park, not skipping, but not not skipping, on a smoldering-hot Tuesday morning.
"No thanks, man," we responded. "But do you have any suggestions on ways to improve the park?"
"On the real," he replied, without missing a beat. "People need to quit selling weed in this park. This is the State Capitol. That shit's messed up."
With that, the young schizophrenic retreated back into the shadows to pursue another sale, leaving us to conclude that, in fact, yes, that shit is messed up.
In his State of the City address last Thursday -- a lengthy affair that left What's So Funny spasming with boredom on the ground like an exhausted child in a department store who'd been dragged along on a back-to-school shopping spree -- Mayor John Hickenlooper announced the Parks and People in Partnership Program. Coordinated by the city's Department of Parks and Recreation, this program will use volunteers to evaluate Denver parks and make improvement recommendations to the city. A "clipboard brigade" will be sent to survey a park a month, checking conditions against a list of fifteen things to look for.
Curiously, our voice mail was empty for several days after Hickenlooper's speech, and when it became clear that he was not going to ask us to spearhead the committee -- despite our previous exhaustive survey of Denver parks' bathroom facilities -- we decided to take matters into our own hands and take it to the street (or a la calle, for our burgeoning bilingual readership). And what better place to start than Civic Center Park?
Leah Jenkins, a second-generation Denverite now living in the park, thinks that Civic Center's number-one need is water fountains. While her friends catcalled at What's So Funny and teased us about our cool new soccer jersey, Jenkins went on to offer loads of helpful advice, including suggestions for more trash cans in the park, since they quickly overflow, and more porta-potties. And more tolerance for the homeless, too. Recently, the police have become much harsher in their interactions with the homeless, she said, and she and her friends have received numerous citations for everything from violating park curfew to open containers to panhandling. Jenkins didn't know if this crackdown was a result of Hickenlooper's pledge to end homelessness in Denver in ten years, but commented, "At this rate, I don't know how many of us will be alive in ten years."
What about Hick's announcement last week that the park could become a wireless hot spot?
"I don't have a cell phone," she replied.
Across the park, a private security guard sat on a temporary stage in the Greek Amphitheater, guarding various chairs and lights set up for an upcoming festival. The man, who was born and raised in Denver, said there wasn't much he would do to improve the park, since it's already clean and the flowers are beautiful and the homeless have as much of a right to be there as anyone else.
"I suppose they could use a man selling peanuts," he concluded. "And a swing for the kids."
"So, swings and peanuts?" we asked.
"Swings and peanuts."
That's not a goddamned bad idea, private security guard. And if they were to have a monkey selling the peanuts
Vanessa Armas, who sells hotdogs on the corner of 14th and Acoma streets, wants to see a return to more flowers. Every spring, across from the City and County Building, the city would plant a flower bed in the shape of the word "Denver," followed by the year, and tourists would snap photos by the garden. But this year, she said, the flowers never showed up.
She'd rather have the drugs disappear.
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Same goes for Tighe Chamberlain, a man begging for change on the corner of 14th and Broadway, who agreed that drugs are Civic Center Park's worst problem. "I've seen so many of my friends die in this park because of drugs," he said.
Heading back to our car, not skipping, but not not skipping, What's So Funny was approached by the same man who'd offered us drugs an hour before.
"Hey, man," he said, with a dazed look on his face, seemingly oblivious to our previous interaction. "Do you need any weed?"