May 29 2014

Are Homeless Ruining I.M. Pei’s 16th Street Mall in Denver?

Can homeless ruin good urban planning? Do you find New York City’s midtown section just a little less enjoyable because of the homeless population? Think of your favorite area in your favorite city: Was there a significant homeless population?

The 16th Street Mall in Denver opened in 1982. It was designed by I.M. Pei and his internationally-acclaimed urban planning and urban design firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. It is a 1.25 mile pedestrian and transit mall with over 300 locally owned and chain stores and fifty restaurants.

Pedestrians walk down the 16th Street Mall in Denver, Colorado

[Pedestrians walk down the 16th Street Mall in Denver, Colorado]

It is in the heart of the central business district and draws businessmen for lunch on weekdays, tourists all times of the year, and locals for its shopping and restaurants. By all accounts, it is one of the most popular destinations in Denver.

What has stuck out to me most in recent years, however, is the homeless population (among other ills of the mall, but I digress). Homeless beggers interrupting you for money, seeing them sleeping on the streets, homeless loitering in front of shops, on the sidewalks. They can be aggressive, too. Not to mention the public drug use issues that are attributed to the homeless.

Create more affordable housing, you say? City officials estimate they need at least 25,000 units. The City, though, is only proposing 3,000 over the next five years.

A man sleeps in a public plaza on the 16th Street Mall in Denver, Colorado

[A man sleeps in a public plaza on the 16th Street Mall in Denver, Colorado]

And here is another problem: Downtown Denver is booming and people will pay top dollar to live in lofts. Placing affordable units downtown probably isn’t feasible and developers will go down screaming, yelling, and suing if the affordable units are placed in their buildings.

The City also passed an Unauthorized Camping Ban, arguably to clear the homeless from the 16th Street Mall and surrounding central business district. But the Unauthorized Camping Ban is like shoring up ants in your kitchen. Even if you stop them from coming in from one direction, the ants will find a way to your food from another direction. In other words, a camping ban just moves the homeless off the 16th Street Mall. It doesn’t solve the problem.

It’s sad to see homeless on the streets, don’t get me wrong. But what do homeless do to the experience of what is, by all means, a well-planned and well-designed pedestrian mall? Most importantly, what – if anything – can urban planners do about it?

Credits: Images by Jonathan Knight. Data linked to sources.

Jonathan Knight

Jonathan Knight is an award-winning planner and a recent graduate of Kansas State University with a Master's of Regional and Community Planning and Minor in Business. His interest in planning probably came from his avid playing of "Roller Coaster Tycoon" as a child: always fascinated in how complex things in the built environment worked; how they fit together; and why people feel certain ways in different environments. He has worked in sustainability, regional planning, and school planning. He is a professional freelance photojournalist and has been published in national, regional, and local publications. Upon graduation, Jonathan followed his dreams of living near the Rocky Mountains and moved west to Denver, Colorado. At some point during his time at The Grid in 2014, he will have climbed all 58 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado--a 12-year journey completed! Jonathan will be blogging about innovative urban planning, transportation, and housing projects occurring in the Denver region as it seeks to be a world-class city for businesses and people.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, May 29th, 2014 at 4:41 pm and is filed under Content, Environmental Design, Housing, Jonathan Knight, Social/Demographics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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3 Responses to “Are Homeless Ruining I.M. Pei’s 16th Street Mall in Denver?”

  1. Busy With Purpose Says:

    Instead of viewing homeless people as pests that a city can’t get rid of or that are in the way disrupting the flow of urban design, the urban design community can use their ample money flow and innovative design skills to help people who are homeless help themselves. They can do so by incorporating ways to address homelessness in the community development plans they should be creating with the help of members of the homeless community and advocates in the community from the very start of the development process.

    Doing so will help address homeleness in the area by providing the venue to address affordable housing for homeless individuals and families as a start to helping them reenter society where they can become productive and contribute to society again. I say again because many people are only one paycheck away from being homeless in America and people who are currently homeless were most likely productive/working members of society at one point in their lives.

    Therefore the pricey lofts and condos some urban designers and developers are so concerned with building will become a waste of money, time and space because they will sit at half the occupany level because the designers ignored the issues and concerns of the people in the neighborhood such as the human beings dealing with homelessness and lack of safe and affordable housing as well as lack of income during the community development process.

    Nobody is going to care you built a loft or condo if its a money drainer. If all a developer cares about is money their credibility will sank with their development because they didn’t design using a community centric approach for that neighborhood. Working with organizations like One Step Away during the entire process could help the developer be more successful in their endeavors in areas with lots of homelessness.

  2. Jonathan Knight Says:

    Hi Busy, I think you bring up some excellent points. I am glad you understood that I wasn’t pointing blame on the homeless, rather, bringing up ways Denver has tried to solve its homeless problems but have not found success. And giving a jumping-off point for thinking about how urban planners can address these problems. An excellent response with a very astute perspective. Thanks for reading!

  3. Busy With Purpose Says:

    Thank you for responding and for the feedback. Glad you wrote the article and provided a platform for people to discuss important issues surrounding community development all over the globe and provide solutions to address these problems.

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