District 5 City Council candidate Michael Hughes wants Denver to build up and down

He’s an expert in conflict resolution, a skill he believes will be useful in the position.
5 min. read
District 5 candidate Michael Hughes in his Hilltop home. Feb. 8, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

People tell Hilltop resident Michael Hughes that Denver isn't what it once was. For him, it's still a great place -- and much can be done to improve it. That's why he's running for the District 5 City Council seat, which serves Crestmoor, Hilltop, Hale, Montclair, Lowry, Windsor Gardens, Mayfair, East Colfax and more, next year.

"I think there's a lot of stress that comes with Denver changing," he said. "And I think part of what I want to tap into is holding on to those things that people think of when they think of Denver as a great city, even as we change. And also find ways that we can really embrace the changes that are inevitable and the changes we actually want. I think cities have to change and grow and evolve."

Hughes was born in Colorado Springs, attended the University of Denver, and received his masters degree from the University of Pennsylvania in city planning. His company Hughes Collaboration offers mediation and strategic planning services for organizations, and he teaches conflict resolution at the University of Denver -- a skill he hopes to bring to City Council.

He also heads the transportation nonprofit the West Corridor Transportation Management Association and directs the Cranmer Park-Hilltop Civic Association.

District 5 candidate Michael Hughes in his Hilltop home. Feb. 8, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Hughes is obsessed with cities and how they work and grow. So how does Hughes think Denver should change?

He's concerned about affordable housing and wants to see many more overall units in the market. For that to happen, he said, Denver needs to build higher in parts of town that won't be adversely affected by density. Tokyo, as he sees it, is a model for a city that has accommodated growth.

In his own district, he points to parts of Cherry Creek, where taller buildings have been permitted, as a good spot for higher developments.

As for a push to get rid of exclusionary zoning citywide?

"I'm not a fan of blunt instruments," he said, explaining why neighborhoods like Country Club and his own Hilltop, which are zoned for exclusively single-family zoning, should not be rezoned.

Hughes wants Denver to build down.

As Denver grows and traffic and parking problems persist, he'd like to see the city not just build up but also underground, with possible trains and parking beneath the city.

"I don't think anybody's going to build a subway tomorrow from the Parker Park and Ride under Leetsdale to downtown," Hughes said. "But wouldn't it be amazing if all of those transit riders are somewhere other than on Leetsdale, because then Leetsdale could be lots of other things.

"One of them would be a beautiful, wide, protected bikeway," he continued. "We need a lot more of those. And so we're going to have to figure out how we take space away from stuff to give the space used to that. And maybe it goes somewhere else. So let's make more room for pedestrians and bicycles and buses and shared vehicles."

District 5 candidate Michael Hughes stands near his Hilltop home. Feb. 8, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

When it comes to crime, Hughes wants the right people working on the right task.

Police are not the right people to be responding to mental health crises, Hughes noted, and he's supportive programs that send counselors and social workers to address those issues. But he argues police are very much needed for other issues like the catalytic converter and e-bike thefts.

Hughes says addressing violent crime requires a long-term culture shift, in which we reject violence as a solution and emphasize respect for other people.

"I understand that that's not something you do on a Council term, but we have to become less violent as a society, and that will reduce violent crime," he said. "At the same time, we have to make sure that we prevent and prosecute violent criminals -- that we have to feel safe to walk out on the street."

He also wants Denver police to address their own biases and wants the city to continue its work to end racist policing.

District 5 candidate Michael Hughes in his Hilltop home. Feb. 8, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Hughes is concerned about climate change.

He wants employers to encourage public transportation and alternatives to cars. He hopes the city builds better infrastructure for biking and greater density, in many parts of town, to allow for more walkable communities.

He would also like to see RTD, which council does not control, offer more rides where people are and fewer services to communities with fewer transit riders. Perhaps, he said, the agency should shrink and focus entirely on Denver, without trying to solve every transportation issue in the metro area.

Who's he taking on?

Hughes will be taking on incumbent Councilmember Amanda Sawyer, who is running for her second term after defeating her predecessor Mary Beth Susman in 2019.

No other people have filed to run in District 5.

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