Denver’s Square on 21st experiment turns pavement into parkland

If it works, we might see similar projects elsewhere in Denver. Here’s what I saw.

The Square on 21st from above. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Mayor Michael Hancock speaks at the opening of Square on 21st. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Mayor Michael Hancock speaks at the opening of Square on 21st. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

Hundreds of people gathered in the middle of 21st Street at 11:30 on Thursday morning — and it was easy to forget the same block was criss-crossed by cars just a few weeks earlier.

The double yellow lines were covered with a huge roll of artificial turf, the street shaded with trees in wooden planters and the pavement marked with an enormous floral mural.

And that’s how it will stay for the next two months, complete with food trucks, a musical stage and, apparently, throngs of happy people. The pop-up park is between Larimer and Lawrence on 21st Street, two blocks southeast of Coors Field.

If it works, we might see similar projects elsewhere in Denver. Two private groups already have asked about the possibility of doing something similar on their own land, and the city will be carefully watching attendance and usage to see if it’s worth replicating.

“When it all goes well, we get a chance to take this model to other parts of the city,” said Mayor Michael Hancock. It’s an example of a school of thought we’ve seen more often in the city lately: Instead of talking about theoretical master plans for years, city staff try out big ideas with temporary projects, according to planner Steven Chester.

On 21st Street, the question is whether downtown pavement and other areas might be better used as pedestrian spaces. (More on the long-term vision here.)

In the meantime, here’s what I saw during my visit to the pop-up park.

A huge mural:
The Square on 21st from above. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
The Square on 21st from above. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

This mural will stay put even after the park is gone, until the street is repaved. Like a lot of things in the park, it’s very good Instagram bait. Lindsey Bartlett wrote an interesting piece about how they painted it.

Trees:

A mix of oaks and other young trees provided a nice bit of shade, which I appreciated because many of the blocks in this part of town are barren and hot in the summer.

Foliage at Square on 21st. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Foliage at Square on 21st. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Games:

I spotted kids playing a gigantic game of chess. There also was Spikeball, which is like a combination of four-square and volleyball. Also, as always, cornhole.

Baggy-holey. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Baggy-holey. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Spikeball. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Spikeball. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Sculpture:

A person-sized, perspective-warping tunnel provides a nice change of mood as you walk into either side of the park.

Two entrance gates to Square on 21st were built by CU Denver students. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Two entrance gates to Square on 21st were built by CU Denver students. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Food:

I forgot to take pictures, but there was a little coffee-serving car called On The Road Coffee, as well as a mobile pizza oven, a shaved-ice truck and a juice truck. Expect to pay $4 or more for a treat.

Dog park:

A good chunk of the block is taken up by this temporary dog run.

A dog park is shown at left in this view of Square on 21st. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
A dog park is shown at left in this view of Square on 21st. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Events:

The park also includes a temporary stage that will host musical events and other acts.

Coming up Friday is a silent disco, where you’ll see a bunch of people wearing headphones and jumping around to music only they will hear. It runs 8 p.m. to midnight on June 16.

A full list of events is available here.

The rules:

The park will be open from 5 a.m. through 11 p.m. until Aug. 15. The code of conduct says:

  • “Clothing and shoes required”
  • “No smoking (including e-cigarettes”
  • “Dogs must be on a leash outside the dog park”
  • “No busking, performing or displays without permission”
  • “No panhandling; no soliciting”
  • “All belongings must fit under your table”

Andrew Kenney

Author: Andrew Kenney

Andrew Kenney writes about public spaces, Denver phenomena and whatever else. He previously worked for six years as a reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. His most prized possession is his collection of bizarre voicemail. Leave him one at 303-502-2803, or email akenney@denverite.com.