Your time to enjoy Denver’s experimental street park is coming to a close

Final events are lined up for the last weeks of the Square on 21st pop-up project. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Final events are lined up for the last weeks of the Square on 21st pop-up project. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Final events are lined up for the last weeks of the Square on 21st pop-up project. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

An estimated 12,000 visitors have come to Square on 21st since it opened two months ago, browsing food vendors and tossing beanbags on the pavement of what is usually a city street.

The experiment comes to an end in just about a week, officially capping its season on Aug. 20. That still leaves a few chances to dance in a silent disco, taste Japanese culture and more at the Square’s last few events, which we’ll outline for you at the end of this post. The park is at 21st Street between Larimer and Lawrence.

“I really didn’t know what to think going into the project,” said Steven Chester, one of the city planners behind the Square. “This test project — it’s kind of a crazy idea. No one really knew what to think.”

The Square on 21st from above. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
The Square on 21st from above. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

And they still don’t quite know. In the long run, the experiment will tell the city what happens when you turn a street from pavement to recreation. First, they have to scroll through countless hours of video and other data about this summer in the streets.

El-A McClung, owner of the Thread boutique, said that the 150 artists and artisans represented at her store have seen a significant increase in sales. There seems to be much more foot traffic she said, looking up from the spreadsheets on her monitor to greet people browsing the tiny shop.

“Events have been really good for us,” she said, referring to the series of themed evenings the Square has thrown. While much of her customer base knows her shop from social media and other online sources, the Square project seems to have attracted more casual shoppers who wouldn’t have known about Thread otherwise, she said.

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)

While the temporary elimination of parking spots was a concern for some, McClung hasn’t heard complaints from customers, and anecdotally has seen customers from farther outside Denver than she usually does, she said. Cooler street temperatures due to new shade trees also have encouraged more people to loiter and linger on the street, she said.

A man named Brooklyn, who declined to give his last name, said he’d been “frequenting probably for about a month now. You get a lot of traffic here. You see a lot of people come, and they take pictures,” he said.

One complaint from him and a friend: They didn’t like the presence of a sizable fenced-in dog park. “I don’t think the dog park was a good look,” Brooklyn noted from behind dark, pink-rimmed shades. “It kind of stinks.”

Chester also named a few things he would change about his project. The Square didn’t end up with the full-time food vendor he had hoped for, which he thinks reduced the draw. The pop-up park did feature a rotating cast of food trucks, reflecting a growing city interest in partnering with private vendors on public land.

“Something that was identified by the community was food and beverage being this anchor to draw people into this space,” Chester said. It just draws a more diverse crowd. They go there and have breakfast, they hang out in the space. A random scattering of food trucks doesn’t give that consistency.”

A Goldendoddle at the Square on 21st. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
A Goldendoddle at the Square on 21st. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

Lauren Krabve, an interface designer who works down the street, was out with her Goldendoodle in the aforementioned dog park on Thursday afternoon.

“We came here when it first opened — we were super excited. Then it got super hot. We felt like we were melting,” she said, referring to the series of hundred-degree days that baked Denver before the monsoon kicked in this summer.

Street pavement makes areas hotter, which is one argument for spreading parks and green space around urban Denver as a defense against increased temperatures. For now, Krabve said, the Square is a rare respite from the streets of eastern downtown.

“There’s not a lot of places to go sit outside on a bench,” she said.

The Square is scheduled to begin shutting down after Aug. 20, and this weekend is probably your last best chance to see it.

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

Updated: Friday, Aug. 18 brings the final silent disco party to the Square from 8 p.m. to midnight.

You can still browse the part on the 19th and the 20th. After this weekend, it’s over!

A full listing of events is available here, as is a survey.

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.