This Could Be Here
INDIVIDUAL: agent m[i]le[s]
GROUP SIZE: Pushing 100,000 per day – a wildly speculative estimate based on 35,000 to 45,000 cars per day plus immediate area residents.
NATURE OF GROUP: Car commuters pedestrians, cyclists, people on busses and light-rail, attendees of sporting events, residents of “poor and at-risk neighborhoods” Sun Valley, Avondale, and and Cheltenham Heights (aka SoHi) all intersecting at Colfax Avenue and Federal Boulevard in Denver Colorado.
INCIDENCE OF SOCIOMETRY: This Could Be Here
This Incidence of Sociometry was first reported on by Denver’s Westword newspaper:
A local artist quietly courts controversy at Colfax and Federal
Location and History:
The interchange of Colfax and Federal on Denver’s west side is a partial cloverleaf occupying 29 acres of land about a mile west of the state capitol.
The immediate area around Colfax and Federal was once an integrated part of the city. In the late 1880’s a cable car brought people up the hill to the 17th avenue canal dock (now a KFC) to catch a steam ship to Manhattan Beach on Sloan’s Lake. Before the 1950’s the predominantly Jewish immigrant neighborhood around Colfax and Federal integrated into the city grid and the predominantly hispanic Auraria neighborhood on the other side of the Platte River.
The parcel at Colfax and Irving (long the site of a giant parking lot for a tiny mexican market and now the construction site of a coming public library) was once home to the largest synagogue in the western US. The teenage home of Israel’s first prime minister Golda Meir was blocks away on 16th and Julian. In the early 1950’s part of this poor immigrant neighborhood on the west bank of the Platte was cleared to build Mile High Stadium and the adjacent Colfax Federal Interchange. In the 1970’s the neighborhood of Auraria was razed for the construction of Auraria Campus and south Cheltenham Heights was cleared to build “Avondale” a shopping center and series of high-rise apartment blocks described in a West Colfax City Planning report as, ” a classic example of the failings of urban renewal of that era”. Sun Valley was razed and rebuilt into sprawling housing projects blocked in by a municipal powerplant and an industrial zone. Like many cities in the 1950’s – 70’s, Denver used federal interstate and highway funds (both Colfax and Fereral are US Highways) in conjunction with urban renewal, college campus, and stadium district projects to flatten their inner city ghettos, collect immigrants and the poor in low quality municipal housing projects and wall them off from the city center with freeway interchanges and a mile long mazes of parking lots. The Interchange did effectively funnel car commuters to and from I-25 and their new single family homes in the suburbs.
It’s hard to unbuild all that infrastructure, even if recognizing the folly of car-centric city planning from a bygone era. The current Denver City Planning office seems very forward thinking in their approach to transit based development, with plans to infill urban dead space with mixed use retail and residential around a new west light-rail line and a redesign of the Colfax Federal Interchange. They have authored two substantial reports: Decatur Federal Station Area Plan (PDF) and the Colfax and Federal Interchange Alternatives, Draft Report (PDF). The cities reports make a good case for the need to redesign the interchange but are riddled with caveats and the names of community, city, state and federal “partners” who all have a say. It’s 12th on the list of 12 “transformative projects” in the Decatur Federal Station Area Plan and a dates like 2026 get tossed out. Numerous community groups, such as the Federal Boulevard Partnership have advocated for removal of the interchange for years. It continues to be a campaign issue during City Council District 1 races.
This Could Be Here
The IS home office is close enough to Colfax and Federal to appear in the upper right of city commissioned rendering of the proposed redesign of Federal and Colfax.
The interchange and Stadium lie between the IS home office and Auraria Campus on the south west border of Downtown. What should be a short walk or bike down the hill becomes either a zig-zag maze of stadium parking lots and underpasses OR a perilous dash through the interchange to a jersey barrier protected sidewalk littered with broken glass with occasional car-dodging freeway onramps.
West Colfax is a notorious “hard-luck” stretch. Though rapidly gentrifying, the Cheltenham Heights section of SoHi where the IS Home Office is located was rattled by gun-fire on a weekday afternoons twice this summer. It’s still a “bad” neighborhood. Boxed in by the DHA homes to the north and the Colfax Federal interchange to the south and east there is no room for the high occupancy neighborhood to breathe and little room to develop. The end of our street at Colfax and the cross street at Federal have some of the highest pedestrian hit and run statistics in the city.
Long having railed on the stupidity of the interchange, IS availed ourselves of all of this background research and decided to throw our hat in the ring a a “pro-bono” public relations partner to advertise our preference of the four proposed redesigns. IS supports an “at grade” redesign – restoring it to a surface level intersection and developing the freed up 12 adjacent acres.
Our resulting advertisement, a 4×4 ft sign on a 7ft tall wooden armature, was dropped off at 4am on Monday July 28th. It depicts an “artists’ rendering” of what could be in the space, a qr code link to the 4 redesign alternatives with an image of “at-grade”, and the phone number associated with the Colfax and Federal Interchange Alternatives Draft Report. The key operative phrases from the City Planning reports, “celebrated, connected, innovative and healthy” were used to describe the potential for a west Denver gateway neighborhood with an “at-grade” redesign. Designed in green and black with the contemporary slab-serif typeface Archer, the sign was intended to look indistinguishable from the many other development and property sale signs found further north in the rapidly redeveloping near-west side LoHi neighborhood.
Instillation of the sign launched Phase II of IS’s pro-bono PR campaign for the “at-grade” redesign on an accelerated time-table. Having bit at our press notification, Westword newspaper followed up with both a print and website article and interview with agent m[i]le[s] who further publicized the need for an “at-grade” redesign and explaining some of the motivation for the piece:
“I want to create a moment where the people, probably city workers, have to call someone to ask, and that person in the city’s planning department asks themselves, ‘What is this, why is it here? What is the motivation of someone outside of our organization to have an interest in this?'”
After sharing the article to multiple channels IS was contacted by a long time IS agent who unbeknownst to us was working within the City Planning office. To our surprise, the Agent said Steve Chester, the Associate City Planner who’s phone number was on our sign, worked in the same office. The Agent described Steve as “very buttoned down kind of guy, prep school”. After letting the office chatter percolate around for awhile our agent mole reported back in:
(Steve Chester) really loved what you did. He liked that you included the “at grade” rendering but was confused about some of your other imagery … Andrea (Burns, Communications Director) said that she’d like to contact the artist and let him know that the city will probably take it down if the artist does not. Steve Gordon, our supervisor and Managing City Planner, thinks Planning should go get it and display it here. Also, he got a phone call from someone on Tuesday who kept referring to the sign he saw. Steve Chester was thoroughly confused until he was hipped to the reality of The Sign. … I’d be interested to see how long it stays there if you wait for the city to remove it. I was told CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation) might also remove it, as it’s on their land.
Having met our public relations objectives in notifying key partners and the general public of our preference for an “at-grade” redesign IS agent m[i]le[s] monitored the sign, righting and repairing it after a Wednesday evening wind storm. Friday afternoon – two days after Westword’s Wednesday publication someone, likely CDOT, though hopefully Steve Gordon Managing City Planner, took down the sign.
We claim this pro-bono PR campaign as a success. Conversations were started, Colfax and Federal was put under the harsh light of press scrutiny, the city planners got some free advertising for their “at-grade” redesign option – the apparent office favorite. IS has a second sign, an exact replica, in our garage waiting for next summer to remind everyone we still want that redesign…
The following references probably should have been cited somewhere: