Jan 30, 2023 - News

Denver's starting to look bland and some people don't care

New construction in Denver's River North district in 2018. Photo: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

New construction in the River North district in 2018. Photo: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The building boom in Denver is making us look … dull.

What's happening: The city's new apartment buildings, condos and even single-family homes all look alike with banal and boxy shapes masked by a splash of color on the facade, or in other words, like putting lipstick on a pig.

  • You know these buildings. They hulk over the River North Arts District. They took over quaint Tennyson Street. And they're filtering into historic neighborhoods, like Park Hill.
  • Call them "gentrification buildings" or even "fast casual architecture" — the latter being appropriate for the city that pioneered the eponymous food trend.

Why it matters: Denver is losing its charm.

  • The fusion of Western tradition classical style with modern flair that makes us unique is being replaced by what's cheapest and easiest to build in a city struggling to meet the housing demand.

What they're saying: Urban planners and architecture experts blame city design regulations, construction costs, profit motives and limited competition among real estate developers.

  • "The people behind these Lego structures don’t care, they've never been here, nor will they come here," Brad Evans, an artist and creator of the Facebook group "Denver FUGLY" told the New York Times, which put Denver under the headline, "America, the bland."

Yes, but: Denver needs more affordable housing — and soon — regardless of how it looks.

  • Historic increases in property values and rents after a period of growth are leaving people homeless and forcing others to sprawling suburbs that only increases traffic congestion and pollution.

What to watch: Gov. Jared Polis and Democratic lawmakers are making the state's housing crisis the No. 1 focus at the Capitol this legislative session.

  • One solution the governor promoted is modular units built faster and cheaper than traditional construction.
  • The prefabricated buildings are cookie-cutter options without curb appeal, but policymakers say they're not worried about aesthetics.

The bottom line: "It's not like we're proposing putting oil refineries everywhere, this is housing," Senate Democratic leader Dominick Moreno told John. "So, no, we're not worried about making Colorado uglier."

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