Get Ready for a Car-Free Pop-Up Park on 21st Street, a Prototype for a Downtown Urban Trail

Artist Pat Milbery paints a 40-foot mural on 21st Street between Larimer and Lawrence streets. Photo: David Sachs
Artist Pat Milbery paints a 40-foot mural on 21st Street between Larimer and Lawrence streets. Photo: David Sachs

A small piece of 21st Street, currently dehumanized by a lifeless surface parking lot, is getting a people-friendly makeover. And the block is nearly ready for its close-up.

“The Square on 21st” tactical urbanism project between Lawrence and Larimer streets opens Thursday and will last two months. Eventually, Denver Community Planning Development and the Downtown Denver Partnership want the demonstration to seed an urban loop akin to the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, a park-trail hybrid that prioritizes people walking, biking, and gathering.

“Demonstration projects like these are great ways for the city to test, measure, and refine big ideas in the near term, and can provide immense value to the city,” said Steven Chester, a senior city planner with CPD who is managing the demo.

Photo: David Sachs
Photo: David Sachs

Artists painted a street mural over the weekend — one of the finishing touches on a pop-up park that will transform the block into a car-free enclave with 60 trees, a grassy recreation plot, a dog park, local market space, a stage for musicians, and tables and chairs. There’s also space dedicated for people walking and biking through.

About 5,600 people walk the street on Rockies game days, and just a few hundred fewer walk it on an average weekday, according to pedestrian counts from CPD. The area clearly needs to be more people-friendly. Good public spaces are inclusive, catering to all kinds of people, but only 30 percent of people who frequent the area regularly are women. Only 1 percent are kids, indicating the area isn’t inviting to families.

“We’re trying to create something that’s welcoming to everyone,” Chester said. “Any public space that’s dominated by one group of people is kind of a failed public space.”

Photo: David Sachs
Photo: David Sachs

Count Kev Gardner, who lives across the street, a fan of the city’s first-ever pop-up park. Gardner has watched the asphalt canvass transform into more of a people-friendly place over the last few weeks. He helped paint planters as a volunteeer.

“Mainly I’m in favor of the project because of where I grew up, in Boulder,” Gardner said. “There was definitely a sense of community. This gives everybody that — a sense of home, a sense of peace, being able to just come out and chill whether it’s morning noon or night.”

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Photo: David Sachs
  • Blake Boustead

    Interesting. I’ll be curious to see what becomes of it.

  • TakeFive

    I’m really excited about this. It’s prolly been 3 years but playing around on skyscraper forum I had proposed a Streetcar and Green Streets improvements along 21st street from Blake Street to and along Broadway to Colfax. So I was excited last year when they released the conceptual 21st Street/Wynkoop Urban Design Plan.

  • JerryG

    I would hope that, when they do build the two block public space as envisioned in the plan, they seriously consider moving it one block east. Centering it on Arapahoe would allow for new construction at those corners to activate the space with ground floor retail and possibly even expand the space, with some concessions to the developers. Then it really could become a public square, Denver’s Arapahoe Square.

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