Nearly seven years ago, when Denver was creating a plan to develop the northeast side of downtown, an idea was proposed. The concept revolved around 21st street and how to activate it for the community. “We talked about transforming 21st into a festival street. [We] didn’t really give too much background into what that was, [but] it was kind of a big idea at that point,” explained Steven Chester, senior city planner for Denver. “I thought it was a great idea, some people in the city thought it was a crazy idea.”
For Chester, as a city planner, overseeing long-term projects with lofty goals is rather routine. But even for him, the temporary pop-up park now known as The Square on 21st is a big deal.
As Chester explained, the project has not only been heavily supported by the community but they’ve driven it. From providing feedback to helping paint new tree planters, the neighborhood has their fingerprints on every aspect. As a result, The Square on 21st has become much more than a public gathering place.
Everything from a high-tech transportable dog park, to a space for food trucks, a mini-farmers market, a juice bar, a shaved ice stand, a stage, a micro-library and a space to rent out lawn games are included. After hearing the laundry list, it’s almost hard to believe all of that can fit into one block. There will be an active bike lane that will hopefully connect to a potentially large city-wide route called “Downtown Loop.” But, as Chester explained, this is what the community wants and they wanted to deliver.
With the creation of this park, Parks and Recreation and Public Works had to work together which does not happen very often. One of the most literal representations of departments converging can be seen through the large Colorado flag mural painted by the collective So-Gnar. Because, if you take a close look, you’ll notice that the flag’s red isn’t the vibrant crimson you may recognize from the state’s icon.
“The red is prohibited,” said Pat Milbery of So-Gnar. He explained that since it’s painted on the street, certain colors couldn’t be utilized so not to confuse drivers. “Same with yellow, so we tried to focus more on the pink tones with the magenta and then using other tones to accent that.” The outcome ended up lending itself well to the massive piece of art that spans nearly the whole block — and good thing because it’s made to last up to five years — which is much longer than your typical street mural.
“‘It’s like a concrete stain and it has a solvent quality so it basically melts itself into the asphalt and it bonds with the asphalt,” said Milbery.
Beyond the mural, many other areas of the park are representations of collaborative efforts. Everything from the architectural entrance designed by students of the University of Colorado Denver down to the high-tech gravel tested by the Colorado School ofMineshas a sense of community involvement. There’s almost no detail left untouched.
Chester explains that is the way it should be. Because while The Square at 21st might look like a new concept, in the end, it’s still a Denver park that’s designed for community and congregation — even if it does look a bit cooler.
The Square on 21st officially opens on Thursday, June 15 and will last until August 15. It is located on 21st Street between Larimer and Lawerence Street. The park is a joint project from the city of Denver and the Downtown Denver Partnership.