As Denver grapples with astronomical population growth, it frequently sells empty land to the highest bidder. As a result, the city continues to fall in the Trust for Public Land's ranking of metro areas with the most park access, tumbling from 14th out of 100 large cities with the most access in 2014 to 29th this year.
Metrics like these trouble parks advocates and make Denver's dwindling green space hard to ignore, says Kim Yuan-Farrell, executive director of Park People. The nonprofit is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary today, September 5, at a sold-out gala at City Park Pavilion.
Since its founding in 1969, Park People has taken an apolitical stance on open-space preservation, raising millions of dollars to plant more than 55,000 trees and restore parts of Denver's parks and recreation system, including beloved landmarks like the Washington Park Boat Pavilion and Civic Center Park Greek Theater. But the city has changed, and with it so must Park People, Yuan-Farrell says. The nonprofit has launched an advocacy committee that will help guide the organization through political arguments over open space and advise it on the kinds of capital projects it should take on.
The committee had barely formed in 2018 when Initiative 2A, which raises taxes to fund capital improvement projects at parks, was proposed. Park People eventually campaigned for 2A, which passed in November with nearly 62 percent of the vote.
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"A big part of our decision in participating in that whole campaign was really about recognizing the great need and challenges we as a community face with how rapidly we're growing and gentrifying," Yuan-Farrell says. "What are some of the impacts of that [on] quality of life for our city and how important our parks, open spaces and green spaces are to maintaining quality of life?"
Yuan-Farrell says that it's too early to know whether Park People will take a stance in the highest-profile fight over available green space: the Park Hill Golf Course redevelopment project. On July 11, the golf course's owner, the Clayton Trust, sold the land to a developer, who could turn some or all 155 acres into housing and office and retail space despite a conservation easement that prohibits such development...if Denver City Council lifts the easement, that is.
According to Yuan-Farrell, it's too early to talk about Park People's potential advocacy work in general. As for new capital improvement projects, they could include things like renovating the bathhouse at Berkeley Lake Park in northwest Denver and building a new nature-play playground at Commons Park.
"We want to robustly and carefully discuss [our advocacy]," Yuan-Farrell says. "But that is a discussion."