2020 forced Denver to catch its breath.

It’s not something the Mile High City is used to as it has hit a record over the past decade with the increase in population, renown for the arts, tourism, and outside investment. But amid the global pandemic and civil unrest, the Denverites – especially deprived of their urban core and indoor culture – overwhelmingly adopted their parks, patios, bike paths and outdoor murals.

“This is a unique opportunity to redefine what we mean by the public domain,” said Laura Aldrete, executive director of the Denver Community Planning and Development Office. “When we talk about right of way we think of cars, but this is really about getting the pedestrian back into this space. We should own it. “

While Denver has long been known as an active outdoor city, the restrictions and new routines of 2020 have changed daily life here in ways that could – and in some cases must be – be permanent, according to some citizens.

“We viewed 2020 as that lost year,” said Gary Steuer, president of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation. “But there is a lot in terms of urbanism, culture and community that have actually been positive. And parallel to the conversation about racial justice, we don’t want to return to normal here. “

As people stayed closer to home, barriers sprung up on the busy downtown streets and the streets around the large parks to welcome dog walkers, toddlers, and scooter riders. Tents and plastic bubbles from restaurants with après-ski perks are in the foreground of the murals, which range from abstract corporate wallpapers to killed Black Lives Matter symbols. Protests against social justice and camps for the unruly meandered through everything, underscoring the city’s inequality.

Tax, whose foundation funded nearly $ 1.5 million in 2020 for arts and culture nonprofits in Denver (excluding the normal grants), said as did Denver’s restaurants and bars, apres ski culture Imported, kicked off the joint Denver road program that the city officially launched at eight months ago showed the immediate promise of a more accessible, less car-centric city model.

“The reality is that we’ve seen a tremendous increase in pedestrians and cyclists using the outdoors for commuting, shopping and recreation,” he said. “How do we make this more thoughtful and permanent?”

Denver learned from the Aspen Institute’s attractive wooden planters, which barricade pedestrian walkways in the sprawling grounds but turn for trucks and cars. Or Vail Village, where single-lane streets have opened more pedestrian and bicycle spaces on either side. News of what’s open and what’s not, which Denver hasn’t always done well, will be critical, Steuer said.

If Denver officials decide to fully reopen East 11th Avenue or East 16th Street to cars or the food and beverage and market-friendly closings on Larimer Street in LoDo and RiNo in the coming months, the loss of this reclaimed space could be permanent, fears some .

“We are wrestling for the soul of our city,” Councilor Chris Hinds told the Denver Post in September.

At the request of Hinds and his councilors in May, Mayor Michael Hancock’s government agreed to keep the common streets open for the winter before deciding what to do next. On December 23, city officials said some signs marking the common roads will soon be replaced with heavier, water-filled barriers and other obstacles that will make snow plows easier to maneuver.

Widespread support for the household program – despite deviations, emergency rights of way, and zoning laws that must be adhered to – has encouraged Colorado’s largest business improvement district to do the same.

“We are having a major cultural shift in what it means to be an outdoor city,” said Tami Door, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership. “The reason we were able to pass this over so quickly is that we are implementing these pilot ideas that have been tested in recent years. It’s an acceleration of where it’s already going. “

Entrepreneurs in Larimer Square, which sold to overseas investors for $ 92.5 million this month, are hoping to keep their block of restaurants and boutiques closed to car traffic – which has been the case since June. Larimer Square is the city’s first historic district, protected by ordinance since 1971, and is home to 22 historic buildings.

Rachel Ellis, the Denver Post

Avery Veach, 9, center, speaks to her father Ryan as she enjoys hot chocolate with her mother Margaret and sister Madeline, 12, in Larimer Square in downtown Denver on Friday, December 18, 2020. The family paused under the heaters to warm their drink while walking around and looking at the Christmas lights.

With a resilient winter outdoor culture influenced by mountain ski villages, Denver companies have learned that even freezing temperatures don’t have to put a damper on outdoor dining and drinking. The holiday markets in Civic Center Park and Cherry Creek North gave local artisans and shoppers plenty of freedom of movement – and bars with refreshing drinks. Through cultural experiences when driving in or driving through (as opposed to driving through) parking lots and flatbed trailers became haunted houses, drag shows and indie rock concerts in the subway area.

Nobody believes that sorting out what works and what doesn’t will be easy. The city center’s 140,000 office workers will have to return in large numbers to stimulate the city center’s economic engine. Planners know that many won’t, however, as remote work policies suddenly become more economical.

That worries Ballpark-based Demetria Tarabulski, 30. It’s a short commute to her job at Number 38 Social Hall in the River North Art District, but Tarabulski feels less secure than she has at any point since moving to Denver from Philadelphia 13 years ago.

“That June shooting changed my perspective,” said Tarabulski, who lives across the street from 2900 block on North Huron Street, where a man shot 21-year-old Isabella Thallas in a dog poo dispute on June 10th. The crime shocked the neighborhood and left Tarabulski, wondering if pandemic and racial tension had resulted in an ugly new look for Denver.

“I just don’t feel so safe going out, going to a grocery store and having my normal life,” she said. “I loved the night life and the live music so I hope we can come back to that. I don’t think we’ll ever go back entirely to what we had before. “

A pedestrian is making his way down ...

Andy Cross, the Denver Post

A pedestrian walks down the 16th St. Mall on California Street in downtown Denver on March 21, 2020, which is closed to all vehicles other than public buses.

The 2020 tourism implosion, which followed record year-long growth in Denver tourism, left parts of the city empty. In 2019 Denver welcomed 17.7 million overnight guests, including both convention travelers and tourists, who spent $ 6 billion on meals, beverages, transportation and accommodation on the subway.

Since the beginning of March, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused cumulative losses of more than $ 500 billion, or a loss of approximately $ 1.75 billion per day, to the U.S. travel industry, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Denver tourism promoters have been very concerned about the city’s losses, but the outlook for the near future remains bleak. Last month, a six-month streak of Colorado job gains ended with a weak stance on winter tourism, with additional losses expected as tighter restrictions weigh on the economy.

The calm is palpable, say some Denver locals, reminding them of the way the city felt in the 1980s. During that decade, Colorado lost 48,000 jobs in 1982 and 1984 due to consecutive recessions. Could Jack Kerouac’s gritty Denver still be alive among all those yoga studios and juice bars?

“The spirit of the ghost town in present-day Denver made for many surprising joys: beer in the parking lot behind Nob Hill Inn, the sidewalk grill of the Vine Street pub, La Fiesta’s familiar patio,” wrote Colin St. John, a former Denver Post employee his regular walks around town. “I rarely feel unsafe here, but there was such a thing as a (bad version of) ‘Back to the Future II’.”

“I had high expectations for downtown activities, festivals, concerts, and restaurants,” said Jill Squyres, 60, who moved to Arvada from Vail Valley in March. “Thanks to Covid, it was just easier to eat vegetables at home and wait for things to open up again.”

To revitalize downtown, planners need to keep the 2020 pedestrian-friendly floor while rethinking the city’s flow, experts believe. Any redesign of public spaces, from commercial spaces to brewery patios to playgrounds, needs to make them more accessible and disaster-resistant, said Door, director of downtown.

“Experimental retail,” outdoor craft and farmers markets, and experiments like the Acoma Street Project – an outdoor nightclub with reserved tables right on South Broadway – point other ways forward.

“It has to be a good fit for people and businesses,” said Aldrete, director of community planning. “But the goal is to design these places so that they don’t move. The question is, how will these business districts return after their employees have worked from home for so long? That’s what keeps me up at night. “

Kellie McNevin, left, and Tyler Spaan ...

Hyoung Chang, the Denver Post

Denver’s Kellie McNevin (left) and Tyler Spaan are jogging on East 16th Street in Denver, Colorado on Thursday, December 17, 2020.

Reclaiming roads in the same way that conservationists reclaimed historic buildings that were supposed to be demolished in the late 1960s and 1970s also means providing affordable housing, safe transportation, and food options for every neighborhood in Denver, she added. This is a complicated process involving both public and private industries and a lot of money.

Much is at stake, but the solution is not to give up the idea of ​​a city entirely, Door said.

“The psyche of a community is determined by many of these public meeting rooms, whether it be at a cultural event or an art exhibition or just walking around a city,” she said. “What keeps a city sane is the ability to gather and interact with people outside of your social circle (and) to keep connections fluid and refreshed. This is what cities offer. “