by Margarita Gonzalez, Assoc. AIA
Whether you like politics or not, it deeply affects our profession. On Thursday, August 18th, as part of “Building Denver: Visions of the Capital City” exhibition event series, History Colorado Museum hosted a rare (apparently only second ever) discussion with the most recent majors of Denver: Federico Peña (1983–1991), Wellington Webb (1991–2003), Senator John Hickenlooper (2003-2011), and Mayor Michael Hancock (2011–present).
Framed by “A Great City”, the last exhibition section, it depicts the changes starting during the 1980s, and highlights the commencement of major reforms steered by former Mayor Peña. Peña, whose prime vision was for historic preservation, also encouraged citizen participation, raising expectations and starting a new era of involvement. Although the city we’re living in is the result of public policies made long ago, the past thirty-nine years witnessed the combination of decisions that made Denver the thriving city it is today.
The conference, with these four personalities on stage, couldn’t happen in a better environment. In the History Colorado Museum atrium, a diverse audience was excited to listen to past and present leaders. Their differences and commonalities never set them apart. Mr. Peña became the first Hispanic mayor of Denver at 36 years old, defeating the old establishment. His tenure inspired Mr. Webb, the first African American mayor of Denver, to make his unlikely door-to-door campaign successful. Senator Hickenlooper called himself the only white of the team, yet brought the perspective of a small business owner with a vision to support a highly entrepreneurial city. Finally Mayor Hancock, a former Peña’s intern, city council member, and a public servant since young age, highlighted how equity and justice along with strategic leadership has been a key element of his and past tenures. They all questioned the city we’re currently building, and pointed out the need to protect its people and keep its neighborhoods diverse.
The camaraderie exhibited during the conversation displayed how building upon previous policies was the formula of success. After thirty-nine years of deliberate transformation, will a new era begin? What will be our role both as citizens and architects?