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Before I die, I want to… rsz_before_i_die
Driving the streets north of Downtown Denver one might turn some dodgy corners. The gentrification of Curtis Park, Ballpark and Five Points neighborhoods has pushed up real estate prices as artist lofts and galleries, restaurants and the urban infill townhomes that follow, found their place beside the old Victorians. This quilted mix of luxe and lush is what gives the area its unique charm, but if you’ve ever stopped at a red light near one of the triangle parks you may have wondered… why doesn’t somebody clean that up? Often dirty, neglected and filled with those for whom a triangle in traffic is as close to home as they have, these inauspicious spaces have fallen through the cracks. So, whose responsibility are they?
Meet the Community Coordinating District No. 1, whose job it is to transform these hot spots into vital, safe and manageable environments for those who live and work in the area. Community works best when in communion; yet all too often disparate interests work, immune to or in spite of one another, making civic progress slow if not impossible. Created as an ad hoc adjunct “collaborative policy platform”, the CCD brings together government, public, non-profit and private sector organizations to facilitate those public improvements which are often dreamed up and less often realized. Adding working capacity to city-led initiatives, creating opportunities for revitalization and economic development, the CCD will scout out areas of the city that need attention and make sure they get it. Think of them as Denver’s Den Mother.
Born in 2010 as the brainchild of a collection of civic visionaries who’d been trying for decades to improve the areas northeast of Downtown Denver, the Community Coordinating District works across geographical boundaries to unite community stakeholders and thoughtful partners to leverage their assets, pool their resources and more efficiently effect change throughout the city.
Targeted areas of enhancement are Eddie Maestes Park directly across from the Denver Rescue Mission at Park Avenue West and Broadway. Long known as a staging area for the homeless, the park has been riddled with crime and drug-related activity. Rather than just “displace” these issues, the District is exploring opportunities for positive change and working through plans to implement them.
Last summer, Sonny Lawson Park gained some renewed energy with the installation of “Before I Die”, a world-wide, interactive art piece by Candy Chang . The interactive mural is like a giant blackboard with the words “Before I die I want to…” painted on it as a universal writing prompt. Visitors are encouraged to pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their lives, and share their personal aspirations in a public space. The original Before I Die… mural was installed in New Orleans, where Chang transformed the side of an abandoned house in her neighborhood into a giant chalkboard and stenciled it with the sentence. By the next day the wall was entirely filled out and it kept growing. The wall turned a neglected space into a constructive one where neighbors had an outlet to get to know each other and remember their loved ones.
Having been installed in more than 20 countries around the globe, Candy Chang’s Denver incarnation has made its way downtown, where it lives outside the newly renovated McNichols Building at the corner of Colfax Avenue and Bannock, inspiring denizens through February.
The Community Coordinating District offers many opportunities for civic engagement and public participation through its weekly Monday morning meetings, volunteer ops and upcoming events. Strategic partnerships with Arts & Venues Denver, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Parks and Recreation, Denver Police Department, Department of Public Works, Denver’s Road Home, Ballpark Neighborhood Association, City Parks Alliance, Curtis Park Neighbors, Denver Biennial of the Americas, Denver Rescue Mission, Redline Gallery, St. Francis Center, Denver Shared Spaces, Ballet Nouveau Colorado/Wonderbound, Betterweather Inc., Dept. of Community Planning and Development, City Councilwoman: Judy Montero and City Councilman Albus Brooks, promise to keep it interesting.

“Before I die…” was brought to Denver through a partnership of Arts and Venues Denver, the Community Coordinating District, Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, and Denver Design Build LLC. For more information on Denver’s Public Art Program, click or call 720-865-4313.

This spring, Denver placed a respectful #3 on the first annual PR Newswire “Cities on the Edge” study. Factors like our love of extreme sports, a thriving music, arts & cultural scene, the respectful way we’re building green, contributed to our raise rank as well as the perception that we are ‘poised for greatness.’ Of course, we who live in Denver could have told them this. Over the past fifteen years, we’ve watched our Mile High City grow and flourish right before our eyes. We’ve built and rebuilt, created and recreated, and come into our own through the hard work and dedication of our citizens, our leaders and our innovators. We’ve hosted the World Series and the Democratic National Convention, won two Stanley Cups, two Superbowls, built or expanded four museums, created four or five arts districts and some sassy neighborhoods, grown our theatres to the nation’s center stage and thrown some bands into the spotlight. Colorado is on fire!
(…didn’t Governor Owens land in hot water for saying that?)

One thing about living here that makes us great beyond the flash is our strong sense of community. On an early, drizzly morning last week, I roused my grousing sons out of bed and joined more than 500 volunteers for Concert for Kids’ Community Day, a masterfully planned day of giving back. Over 40 of the metro area’s non-profit organizations welcomed busloads of volunteers to their sites for fix-up projects. We were transported to the Bridge Project to complete a to-do list that included painting, landscaping, and cleaning, prior to the Monday morning carpet installation. With goods, services, labor and lunch donated by denizens and sponsors, a slam-dunk day of facility improvement allows these organizations to use their operating funds for the primary programming needs.

I had no idea what to expect from putting a roller and paint brush into the hands of my twelve and seventeen year old sons on a sleep-in-Saturday morning. Could this present a problem? Possibly, but not this day. This was a day of cheerful teamwork, service to others and the kind of hard work they’re rarely asked to do at home. I was uplifted by seeing them in this light; the strong and giving young men they’d grown to be. They were gratified having done something for someone else, and satisfied by the joy they left behind. It’s this kind of dig in and get it done spirit that tips Denver over the edge of greatness and Concert for Kids makes it doable. In gratitude, this weekend CFK presents the Denver Day of Rock in venues throughout the downtown area. Listen to the Gin Blossoms, the music of Styx, the Railbenders and more. Get on your feet and dance some Zydeco with your friends, your family and the strangers you’ll call friends by day’s end. There’s nothing like dancing in the streets to get the summer into full swing!