This op-ed originally appeared in the Denver Post and can be found here.
Being a “city within a park” is not just good for business, it’s critical to Denver’s sustainability. For a city that envisions itself as a “city within a park,” Denver is one of the lowest ranking American cities in park acres per resident. Intertwined with ongoing growth and development throughout the city is the need to balance the amount of green space and nature within our communities. Each of us needs to collectively rethink our definition of ‘green space’ to include not only parks and open space, but trees and greenery built into the spaces in-between.
As our city continues to grow we, as business owners and community stakeholders, need to be the leaders behind a more tangible, accessible solution and look to retrofitting existing spaces. That includes businesses like mine in Five Points, working with one of Denver’s largest developers, EDENS, and partners like the National Wildlife Federation and Denver Botanic Gardens, to proactively invest in breaking up concrete and incorporating greenery in our rights-of-way and store-fronts. By working with local community members, nearby schools, customers and the city of Denver, our collaboration will transform the space we manage to attract more business, improve people’s health and contribute to the fabric of the community.
This isn’t just a movement to make the city more aesthetically pleasing. There are well known mental and physical health benefits of time spent around greenery and in nature, such as lower stress and greater physical activity. Not to mention environmental benefits like reduced heat and better air quality. But as a small business owner in downtown Denver, I can’t ignore the added benefit that customers are willing to pay 8-12% more where there’s attractive landscaping. Stormwater bills and air conditioning expenses are also affected by what we do with hot, ‘impervious’ concrete outside our storefronts.
Whether for residents’ health, a sustainable environment, or bolstering business, the importance of creating more widespread greenery has never been greater.
The work we have planned in Five Points is just one example of what can be done. Denver’s tree planting initiative is another effort that needs to work on all cylinders with special attention for neighborhoods traditionally omitted from the city’s greening efforts. Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), Residential Neighborhood Organizations (RNOs) and City Council can pursue policies that encourage (if not require) unpaved space and greenery on business grounds just as we are expected to manage noise and lighting. To be successful on the scale that is necessary, public-private partnerships need to bring together city agencies with nonprofits and businesses to incorporate greener infrastructure and right-of-way management in spaces managed and permitted by the city.
Business leaders and stakeholders across the metropolitan area can also take their own steps to make incremental improvements at low costs to bring nature back into our city and our daily lives. Examples already exist showing how accessible these solutions can be. St. Joseph’s Hospital built a public green space into its renovated grounds for patients and nearby residents. Right here in Five Points, Gold Point bar landscaped a public patio with native plants and foliage, allowing them to operate during the pandemic. Schools such as Globeville’s Garden Place Academy and Montbello’s Monarch Montessori have renovated their grounds to bring nature and green space to children. While these are individual examples, if done systematically around Denver, the benefits for our city will be amplified.
Changes don’t need to be dramatic: a tree here, cluster of grass or flowers there, more permeable surfaces and less asphalt. Through a combination of public-private partnerships, strategic incentives or requirements from City Council, BIDs, RNOs, school districts and a collective commitment to bringing more nature into the spaces in-between, Denver can once again pursue the original vision of being a ‘city within a park’. That’s not just good for business, it’s a critical solution for the sustainability of our city.