Denver’s new 20-year plan for parks and rec imagines a greener future — and more plans

More trees, please.

Thomas Jefferson High School students play football in Jefferson Square Park in Denver's Southmoor Park neighborhood, May 18, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Thomas Jefferson High School students play football in Jefferson Square Park in Denver's Southmoor Park neighborhood, May 18, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photos

The Denver City Council on Monday unanimously approved “Game Plan for a Healthy City,” a two-decade vision for where and how people exercise and experience nature, after three years of public meetings and strategizing.

Game Plan is a 246-page document that paints a picture of a city with abundant trees, busy recreation centers and a dense network of water-efficient parks that anyone can walk or roll to in 10 minutes.

Compare that picture with today’s Denver, a city with a dearth of trees, underused rec centers and gaps in its park network, which costs $2.7 million a year to water, according to the document.

Game Plan is heavy on big goals that do not always contain timelines or detailed steps for achieving them. But the document does detail how to get started. The authors call out 25 priorities to work toward over the next three years — using 25 percent less energy in 10 years, for instance — and provide milestones meant to measure success, like making all golf carts electric.

Other goals don’t have such quick strategies. Several actions include further studies, plans and research. For instance, the Hancock administration wants to see every household within a 10-minute walk of a park, but one of the only supported actions in the next three years is to find money and prepare another plan, this one to guide land acquisitions.

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Several neighborhoods barely have any trees. (Courtesy City and County of Denver)

That’s not a problem, according to Darrell Watson, co-chair of the resident-led group that helped hammer out Game Plan, because Parks and Rec has already cleared a tall hurdle: money.

Voters passed a tax increase in November that earmarks about $37 million annually for parks. That spending plan includes new parks and is already underway.

“Yes, there are additional steps, but you have a massive planning process like this that has some clearly articulated, measurable goals and some of those successes are ready to be done before the plan is even adopted,” Watson said.

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The black-and-white striped areas are places where residents don't have a 10-minute walk to a park. (Courtesy City and County of Denver)

Here are some differences between today’s Denver and the Denver of 2040, should city government deliver utopia.

Game Plan has way more wishes and recommendations than these, but here are some big ones:

  • Parks: About 86 percent of Denverites live within a 10-minute walk of a park, which is good compared to most American cities. Game Plan aims for 100 percent.
  • Trees: Denver has fewer shade trees than most other major cities, according to Game Plan, with just 13 percent of the city covered by trees. In the last six years, Denver has removed more trees than it has planted, and one in six trees is threatened by the emerald ash borer beetle. By 2040 officials want a tree canopy over 20 percent of the city, a relatively low goal. Austin is working on 40 percent coverage. Phoenix is aiming for 25 percent.
  • Energy conservation: The city spends almost $3 million a year watering parks, which is good for about 12 percent of Parks and Rec’s budget. Game Plan calls for a 25 percent reduction in energy use at all of its parks and recreation centers.
  • Obesity: One in six Denver kids is obese and almost half of Denver’s residential land is outside of a 10-minute walk to a playground. Game Plan calls for more playgrounds, particularly in north and west Denver.

The plan states it will prioritize low-income people and neighborhoods.

Denver has lots of plans. Some gather dust on the shelf.

The 2008 Cheesman Park Master Plan called for eliminating half of the entrances for cars, among other things, to create a more pedestrian-friendly park. No entrances were closed and Parks and Rec actually added 22 parking spots three years ago. The 2004 Berkeley Park Master Plan called for a new rec center, but that hasn’t happened either.

Former Bronco Eben Britton waits on base as Tatum Bell pitches a kickball. The 420 Games at Berkeley Lake Park, July 22, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Former Bronco Eben Britton waits on base as Tatum Bell pitches a kickball. The 420 Games at Berkeley Lake Park, July 22, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The latter makes Berkeley local Marie Edgar skeptical of Game Plan.

“There’s lots of plans but how is it connected to my neighborhood?” Edgar said an interview. “I don’t want any more than any other neighborhood, I just want to know if it’s going to be more than words.”

Six of eight residents at Monday’s public hearing spoke in favor of the plan adoption. Council members passed Game Plan 10 to 0, with members Chris Herndon, Mary Beth Susman and Robin Kniech absent.

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