It's easy to feel like you're in the right place at the right time — if you know what you're looking for before you get there.
This past Monday, I joined a friend for the annual Winter Solstice celebration at Ironton Studios & Gallery. In the heart of what is officially the River North Art District — and, as RiNo, home to some of the hottest real estate in town — the event was also an unofficial goodbye to the gallery inside this warehouse, as the space will be handed over to the Colorado Photographic Arts Center in January. We gathered around a fire in the industrial courtyard of the shabby but sturdy metal building and prepared to write the regrets and wishes of our year on tiny scraps of paper and feed them to the blaze in a symbol of renewal.
I hadn't thought much about what I wanted to see in 2016 or didn't want to take with me from 2015, but as artists and friends of Ironton took turns reading poems and thoughts about the seasonal shift, I definitely started to hear a theme in their words: Denver was changing, and there was no turning back.
This is an old story, one that gets told and retold, each time a little differently, as one decade passes into the next. I've spent the last three years or so trying to wrap my head around just what, exactly, has been happening to Denver during the current boom — the latest in a cycle of booms and busts in our city's short lifetime. When this bust/boom first hit, the tremors felt across Denver were similar to what they'd been in the past — bars and businesses closed, then bars and businesses opened as developers snapped up bargain properties. But then, all of a sudden, it felt like a tidal wave of change hit Denver, sending dozens of old buildings flying into nothingness and new construction spreading across the grid like wildfire. Those of us who had been living here for the last ten, twenty, fifty years barely had time to catch our collective breath.
I thought a lot about this citywide experience as we tossed past mistakes and hopes for the future in the fire. Denver becoming something different from what we have known for so long is a topic that people want to talk about all the time — people who are friends, interview subjects, even strangers who discover I've been writing tales of woe every time a Denver building that I love disappears. "What does Denver's future really hold?" is a question that I hear constantly. I ask it a lot, too.
As much as I sometimes not-so-secretly hope that the bottom falls out of the Denver market and the growth stops and I wake up and recognize my city again, I know that's not realistic or productive for this modern city. Much of my distaste for the present state of Denver hinges on aesthetics and the lack of care taken regarding what this city will look like in the future, as evidenced by the developers, contractors and real estate businesses currently in charge of creating our visual space. But as my friend Lauri Lynnxe Murphy points out in a recent installment of her "Mayday Experiment" series, an influx of ugly buildings isn't the real problem — Denver's affordable housing crisis is.
The other thing I'm most affected by when I talk about a changing Denver is the fake city that's being used to advertise us. The idea of "luxury" that has become the sign of the new Denver is not who we are. We are a city of humility, humbleness and opportunity for all — I've never thought of "luxury" being part of that equation. I drove by a new development on the Northside recently, and as I watched a woman walk out of a yoga studio inside a new structure, it felt like I was in a parallel reality — one where a designer's mock-up of a "new residential/work/social space" came to life and looked just like the illustration. This is something I wasn't excited to see more of in this city I've called home for my whole life, because it just didn't look like us.
But then I took a step back mentally and realized: This is us. This is Denver, right now. We are growing, we are changing and we are becoming the next version of ourself, whatever that may be. More than 100,000 people moved to Colorado in the last twelve months. People change places. People determine what places become.
I write a lot about the Do-It-Yourself music and art world, particularly the one that exists in Denver. Earlier this year I wondered what would happen to our DIY art scene if Denver became too expensive for it to thrive. But I recognized that even as this city becomes more expensive, the art cannot be stopped. What we are is in the people who make it something. We choose to tell the story of Denver in real time, and it's up to us to tell the real tale.
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In 2016, I'm committing to figure out what we can do to make things better in Denver for everyone. I can't stop the overwhelming feelings I have whenever I drive down a block in a neighborhood I used to know and see that every piece of its formerly familiar built environment is gone. But bemoaning these changes — though I probably won't stop being vocal about them — won't solve anything. Getting involved with the process will. If you are like me and find yourself confused and frustrated by the way Denver is developing, I encourage you to find out more.
Denver City Council meetings are open to the public — this year, I've learned a lot about how decisions are made just by sitting and listening to the people in charge of Denver. You also need to know what's going on with our police department, district attorney's office and other power centers. Connecting with local groups that work with homelessness, public transportation and citywide accessibility issues is another great way to get involved. (I wrote a short list earlier this year on just a few ways you can aid your fellow Denverites if you have the means.)
Show your city pride by voting. Display your Denver love by volunteering your time and money to the entities and organizations that matter most to you. Make your voice heard by spending your money in places you believe in — don't wait until your favorite diner, local clothing store, small market or tailor is gone to lament its lost greatness. Get in front of the change. Stay informed. Have a say in what happens in this city. Denver is only as great as each person living here makes it. In 2016, I hope to make Denver a place I'm proud to be from again.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies