Building For the Future

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Moulton also says that Tryba underestimates the resistance of neighborhoods to increasing density. "All he has to do is go ten blocks away, and he'll find neighbors who don't want any more density," says Moulton. "It's an American dream to have land around you."

Even though he'd like to see far more development in central Denver, Tryba says the incremental pace may buffer his firm if the economy takes a dive. No one is building fifty-story high-rises, and that means architects may not be in the dire straits they encountered in the 1980s if the economy sours.

But it doesn't take an economic downturn to destroy historic landmarks.
Tryba was greatly troubled by the loss of I.M. Pei's paraboloid on the 16th Street Mall three years ago. One of the ironies of our time is that modern architecture's radical rejection of historical context has now come back to haunt it, as one modern landmark after another falls to the wrecking ball and much of the public looks on indifferently.

"How are we going to take care of the best post-war work we have?" Tryba asks. "I thought the paraboloid should have been saved. They could have turned a sow's ear into a silk purse."

For now, Tryba is busy trying to save his new neighborhood. He's working on a plan to turn the blocks around the Fisher Mansion into a historic district centered on the Immaculate Conception Cathedral. Tryba believes the city has overlooked the potential of Colfax as an urban boulevard, and he wants Denver to put as much effort into Colfax as it has into Speer Boulevard.

"Colfax's rightful place is to serve as a gathering place for two major neighborhoods," says Tryba. "The brick buildings in LoDo are nothing compared to the stone buildings in this neighborhood. We could have a half-dozen other LoDos in Denver."

Creating walkable neighborhoods means upping the density, something that Westerners have traditionally resisted. But while Americans often assume that high-density housing has to look like Manhattan, Tryba insists that central Denver could accommodate tens of thousands of new residents in five-story buildings. There's no reason, he adds, that Denver couldn't have residential districts every bit as lively as the storied neighborhoods of Paris and Vienna.

All it will take is leadership, and Tryba wonders if Denver will be up to the challenge.

"There's a leadership vacuum," he contends. "No one wants to focus on the potential. There are only a few times in the life of a city where you have the opportunity to look at what you've done and decide what the future is going to be."

As he talks, Tryba begins pacing around his office, and his voice rises in excitement.

"What makes Denver great is its smallness," says Tryba. "It's not that we have two million people and 48 local governments. It's that we're a small town that has a great performing arts center, good hotels and restaurants. We can be a walking city."

As he abruptly sits down, Tryba's gaze wanders to the cityscape just outside his window. "We have the potential," he concludes, "to be one of the greatest cities in the country."

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Stuart Steers
Contact: Stuart Steers

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