‘Green vs. concrete’ was a false dilemma. Denver must think bigger about its future.

Reimagine how we get around the city

November 5, 2021 4:00 am

A view looking north at Cheesman Park in Denver on Aug. 7, 2020. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

Denverites saw a multitude of yard signs go up regarding the November 2021 municipal election. Many asked me to choose between “Green” and “Concrete.” This referred to the dueling Ballot Questions 301 and 302, which were in conflict over the fate of the Park Hill Golf Course property. The emotions behind this issue are much larger than just a single property. They are valid concerns about access to green space, land use, air pollution, and climate change.

If we are to truly address our concerns about the balance between “green” and “concrete” space in Denver, then we should look to the largest consumer of “concrete” space: automobiles. If we are really worried about reducing air pollution in Denver, we should consider the primary source of such pollution: cars and trucks. If we need to take urgent and substantial action to fight climate change, then much more of our focus should be on the largest source of greenhouse gases in Colorado and in the U.S.: transportation.


To begin to solve these issues in earnest, we need to think bigger than a single fight over a single property. We must reimagine how we get around the city and redefine the role of our local government in homeownership and housing access.

Supporters of measure 301 highlighted in the municipal voting guide that “nearly 50% of Denver … is now paved or built up, compared with about 19% in the mid-1970s.” The source of this statistic is probably a 2019 Denver Post article by Bruce Finley. Finley’s article also includes a diagram which breaks down the usages, by acre, of different kinds of “concrete” space. It lists driveways at 1,759 acres, sidewalks at 2,316 acres, parking at 7,388 acres, and roads at 13,700 acres. In total, almost 23,000 acres of space is taken up by automobile infrastructure. By comparison, Buildings in Denver take up only 12,702 acres. It’s easy to see that there is much more space in Denver for cars than for people, which is exactly why we feel trapped in a sea of concrete.


Effectively changing our transportation patterns will also mean changing our land use policies. Improved public transportation will rely on increased density to be efficient. The benefits of increased density are apparent when the space each resident once needed for a parking space can instead be a park, a courtyard or a garden. One policy to start with would be allowing the construction of “granny flats,” or accessory dwelling units, citywide. Reforming land use policies must focus on creating a multitude of green, walkable neighborhoods.

There are many other opportunities for us to create green space in our neighborhoods. We could transform wide roads into “linear parks,” which include sustainable bus and bike lanes and return the rest of the road space to residents as a park. We could install playgrounds for children on narrow neighborhood streets by using mid-block road space, creating a dead end. We could even start by re-greening those streets that were closed in 2020 to make room for outdoor restaurant seating.

301 sign
A yard sign in Denver’s Baker neighborhood, pictured Nov. 2, 2021, urges a yes vote on Initiated Ordinance 301 and a no vote on Initiated Ordinance 302. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

Rebalancing the use of public space in this way is immensely popular in every city where it is implemented. Such an effort is already being considered in Denver in the form of the 5280 Loop, a 5.280-mile-long trail of street transformations with the goal of creating plazas, playgrounds, and adding trees to otherwise “concrete” spaces. We should plan similar improvements throughout the city and expedite them.

Combined with land use reform, these transformations would make workers wealthier, increase the supply of housing, and create space for local small businesses. Adopting climate-friendly transportation and land-use policies could bring more than $40 billion in economic benefits to the state.

Ultimately, the “green” vs. “concrete” framing was a false dilemma. It asserted that we can either have the “scorching hardscapes” of automobile-oriented development, or no development at all. We don’t have to choose between those things. We can reorient our transportation and land use policies to create a city with more affordable and flexible housing options, more greenspace, and less noise and air pollution. This transformation  would enable us to reconnect and rebuild our communities. It would prepare us for a future with many more Denverites, and for a future with a warming climate.


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Evan Derby
Evan Derby

Evan Derby is a transportation, housing, and land use advocate. He grew up in Boulder and graduated from the University of Denver in 2020. Today he works as a software engineer.