OPINION: The Case For Parks

Greater Park Hill March 31 2020

Denver Should Revive Its Dedication to City Beautiful

By Maria Flora and Georgia Garnsey

For the GPHN

When Denver’s urban parks and parkways were designed during the City Beautiful movement of the early 1900s, their purpose was to “provide beauty, to promote mingling of people from all socio-economic backgrounds, and to endorse the principle of equality by allowing all citizens access to free open space.”

That was how former Denver Parks and Recreation managers Don and Carolyn Etter described the motivation in their book City of Parks: The Preservation of Denver’s Park and Parkway System. The authors also note that parks were historically considered a “physical embodiment” of equality of access to space and to nature and to mark “the city as a place of quality.”

Parks continue to serve this important purpose, along with additional purposes that have become more critical today than ever before. With their trees and vegetation, parks act as the lungs of the city, reducing pollution as they cool the air and combatting the overheating caused by the devastating phenomenon of climate change.

Denver’s Climate Adaptation Plan confirms what we can all feel – our city is getting hotter. The “heat island effect” (a term referring to the heat that builds up in concretized urban areas) is increasingly pronounced in Denver, especially as open space is developed into impervious surfaces such as those planned for Loretto Heights and Elitch Gardens. The new development at 9th and Colorado Boulevard is another example of increasing impervious surfaces, with concrete and asphalt and an absence of vegetation and tree canopies that could provide critical shade and cooling for the city.

The heat island effect in Denver presents increasing health and safety risks. It has the potential to result in power outages due to overtaxed cooling systems, as well as create higher levels of air pollution and ground level ozone concentrations. The outcome is adverse health effects, including difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, coughing and sore or scratchy throat and worse.

The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE) assigns a “heat vulnerability score” to Denver neighborhoods, which is a composite of built environment, demographics and human health. Neighborhoods in Northeast Park Hill, Clayton, Cole, Elyria/Swansea and Globeville are among the most vulnerable in the city to this environmental hazard. These neighborhoods also have high percentages of areas not under a tree canopy. For example, nearly 85 percent of the west part of Northeast Park Hill is not under a tree canopy.

In a March 2017 report, the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation recognizes that the northern (and western) neighborhoods of Denver have higher concentrations of ethnic and racial diversity, lack of car access, lowest incomes, and highest levels of obesity and chronic disease. They also have among the highest park and recreation facility demand in the city.

There are more reasons to value and preserve and expand open space throughout Denver, such as the fact that parks keep our neighborhoods and communities fit and healthy. Parks also promote mental, emotional, and social health.

There is no question that parks provide one of our best tools for mitigating the effects of climate change. “Urban parks cool and clean the air, improve and modify local wind circulations, and better regulate precipitation patterns. Well-vegetated parks mitigate the impact of the urban heat island and minimize local climate change,” according to the City Parks Forum.

All of Denver would reap the benefits of the 155 acres of green and tree-filled open space on the Park Hill Golf Course (PHGC) land, a site that is readily accessible to downtown Denverites and residents throughout the city by light rail. (The PHGC land is in the direct vicinity of the 40th and Colorado light rail station.)

The restoration of Denver as a “city within a park” is within reach if we act now. Maintaining the open space and creating a park on the PHGC land would be a huge step toward this goal. Denver does not need to sacrifice more of its precious green space to development. There are large areas of underutilized lands in the northeast section of the city, very near the PHGC site, that are much better candidates to convert to housing and other amenities the community may desire.

Leave the land for the public to enjoy. Combat climate change. Fight for the health and well-being of our most vulnerable populations. And let Denver breathe.

Maria Flora and Georgia Garnsey serve on the Health and Environment Subcommittee for SOS Denver, the organization that is working to preserve the conservation easement on the land at Park Hill Golf Course. 

OPINION_ The Case For Parks – Greater Park Hill Community

1 thought on “OPINION: The Case For Parks

  1. The following opinion was printed in the Greater Park Hill Newsletter May 1. Author Ken Ho, Westside Development
    5/1/2020 OPINION: City Should Pursue Planning Process – Greater Park Hill Community
    https://greaterparkhill.org/uncategorized/opinion-city-should-pursue-planning-process/ 1/2
    MAY 1, 2020
    OPINION: City Should Pursue Planning Process
    News and Opinion Uncategorized
    Diverse Housing Choices, Parkland Can Coexist
    By Kenneth Ho, For the GPHN
    I am writing to respond to the opinion piece about the Park Hill Golf Course land, “The Case for
    Parks,” which appeared in the April issue.
    SOS Denver’s Claim: “There are large areas of underutilized lands in the northeast section of the
    city, very near the PHGC site, that are much better candidates to convert to housing and other
    amenities…”
    Our position: A review of “underutilized land,” most of which is industrially zoned, near the golf
    course shows price points that well exceed what affordable housing developers can pay. A large
    percentage of the Park Hill Golf Course (PHGC) is within a 10-minute walk of the A-Line and busy
    RTD bus routes that connect to downtown and the airport. We need to place housing, especially
    affordable housing, in these areas because it is more sustainable than pushing them further east and
    provides housing close to amenities and transit rather than in an industrial area.
    SOS Denver’s Claim: SOS seems to imply that new development on the PHGC will not include any
    park space.
    Our position: Westside has committed to providing at least 60 acres for a large park on the site. We
    would like to engage the community to discuss what amenities they want this park to include, how it
    will be programmed, where it will be located on the site and how best to build and maintain it – all of
    which will determine its final size and configuration. A highly-amentized park of this size would
    typically cost $60 million to build and $3 million annually to maintain.
    SOS Denver’s Claim: “The northern (and western) neighborhoods of Denver have higher
    concentrations of ethnic and racial diversity, lack of car access, lowest incomes, and highest levels of
    obesity and chronic disease.”

    Our position: We agree, but SOS’s conclusion that a 155-acre park will address these issues is
    patently false. The communities around the golf course – Northeast Park Hill, Elyria-Swansea, Clayton
    and Skyland – are vulnerable to displacement and need affordable housing and workforce
    development opportunities. Parks are not a silver bullet for previously underserved communities, and
    in fact parks have the potential to cause gentrification.
    SOS Denver’s Claim: “With their trees and vegetation, parks act as the lungs of the city, reducing
    pollution as they cool the air and combatting the overheating caused by the devastating phenomenon
    of climate change.”
    Our position: We agree parks are important, but it is the tree canopy that combats the “heat island
    effect.” In fact, the number one generator of greenhouse gases is transportation. The recent
    economic disruption has shown the best way for us to combat global warming is to decrease our driving and our dependence on the automobile. We need to be able to manage growth in a
    sustainable way by concentrating development close to our transit resources.
    SOS Denver’s Claim: “Open space is developed into impervious surfaces such as those planned for
    Loretto Heights and Elitch Gardens.”
    Our position: SOS is equating “impervious surfaces” with development and implies that all open
    space is good. Elitch Gardens is currently mostly asphalt parking lots that, while open, are not good
    for the environment. With Denver’s green roof initiative, the proposed Elitch’s redevelopment will
    decrease the heat island effect and will create 27 acres of waterside parks and open space. The
    PHGC is not a park, it is a golf course that uses 106 million gallons of water a year, three tons of
    fertilizer and provides access only to those who pay a greens fee.
    Westside looks forward to engaging the community in discussions as part of a City-led Small Area
    Plan process to discuss the future of this site. We are saddened to see Save Open Space Denver
    seeking to mute the voice of the community by demanding that the City not pursue a community
    process to discuss the future of this land (see last month’s letter to the editor from Imam Ali). Westside
    stands ready to engage in this process and we hope to turn this failing golf course into a
    neighborhood that will support the needs of the surrounding community, including diverse housing
    choices, at least 60 acres of public park and services and amenities needed by the community.
    If you have questions or comments about our plans please go
    to http://www.parkhillgolfcoursereimagined.info.
    Kenneth Ho is a principal in the development group Westside Investment Partners, Inc. He lives in
    Stapleton. The opinion piece that Mr. Ho references can be read online here.

    PDF OF RESPONSE

    Like

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