Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

16th Street Mall's 30th birthday not exactly celebrated by the New York Times

Every party has a pooper, and in the case of the 16th Street Mall's thirtieth anniversary party, that would be the New York Times, which published an article on Tuesday's celebration -- both online and in print -- that some boosters think made the event look a lot like Mayberry, BFD.

The celebration included speeches by Mayor Michael Hancock and Senator Mark Udall, as well as free "I heart the mall" T-shirts, cookies and balloons that inspired a few homeless men to shadow-box, noted Times reporter Jack Healy.

The 16th Street Mall's thirtieth was a local milestone that Westword celebrated with an October 4 cover story -- after all, the mall runs through the heart of our city -- but it wasn't exactly big national news, even if it's regarded as a major success in urban-planning circles and ranks as the city's top tourist attraction.

Is it the icon that Hancock suggested, though? Wrote Healy:

But Denver has a mixed relationship with its downtown emblem and has struggled with the fact that a civic space built to draw all kinds of people will draw, well, all kinds of people.

In the daytime, it is nearly impossible to walk its length without being asked to sign a petition supporting marijuana legalization, donate a few dollars to help starving children, help someone buy a cup of coffee, register to vote, help clean energy, assist Planned Parenthood. Occupy Wall Street protesters converged here, as did janitors upset with contract negotiations. A Federal Reserve branch near Curtis Street is a popular target.

"There's always crazy stuff," said Kendra Jackson, 24, who watches it all stream past from the window of her cupcake kiosk.

At night, though, the streets can feel eerie and empty, as if the bustling daytime party has departed for restaurants and cafes in areas like Larimer Square or the newly renovated loft neighborhoods along the South Platte River. Fights break out, and people are sometimes stabbed or shot. In May, the City Council banned camping along the mall to scatter the homeless people who sleep there.

"Ow," said one sensitive city official after reading that section.

The Times piece also included quotes from Jimmy Hayde, the longtime bartender at My Brother's Bar (also featured yesterday in a Food Paradise segment on hamburgers), who lived downtown for years and finally moved out last spring -- explaining why in an essay in the Denver Post:
I can't keep making excuses about how you're the loveliest and liveliest part of Denver. You're not. I'm ashamed of you. Your new friends see you as part of an exciting downtown. Your old friends know better.
No one said that getting older was easy. The 16th Street Mall may be going through some growing pains, but there will be many more reasons to celebrate in the years to come, including the completion of the Union Station project in 2014.

Still, city boosters might want to lose the Times's invitation to that party.

Read our current cover story, "Thirty years in, the 16th Street Mall is still going strong" -- and take another look at the mall in our For another look at the mall in our 16th Street Mall celebration slide show.