DENVER—In an upbeat State of the State address Monday, Mayor Michael Hancock expressed a vision where the key to bolstering quality of life here was to facilitate connections, between different kinds of residents and different parts of the city and, in an era when the public sector has come under attack, he underlined the powerful role government can play in the critical areas of transit and infrastructure and housing.
“Whatever you need in order to live a vibrant life should be a quick walk, bike, bus, or rail ride away,” he said on a stage at the Forney Transportation Museum in a transitioning light-industry city neighborhood north of city center. “This includes our international airport, jobs throughout the region, and affordable housing.”
Hancock noted that the city will add its 100th mile of bike lanes this year and that the region’s major FasTracks mass-transit project will soon connect the urban core with the Denver International Airport.
“You might have heard me call this the corridor of opportunity, or aerotropolis,” he said, referring to his pet-project, which would rejuvenate the neighborhood where the museum is sited. Project champions hope to breathe new life into the area through integrated housing construction and business and riverfront projects, all fed by the 20-mile FasTracks route.
“The exhibits here pay tribute to the vehicles of our progress, to the connections we have made to one another, and to the rest of the world,” he said, to a showroom packed with hundreds of people and standing before an antique train car.
Hancock focused on Denver as a growing and inclusive community.
He celebrated the more than 400 same-sex civil unions made in the city since the law legalizing them in the state took effect this summer and he congratulated the lawmakers and Governor John Hickenlooper who worked to pass the ASSET bill, which allows undocumented Colorado high school graduates to to apply for in-state college tuition.
“Today I challenge the U.S. House to pass comprehensive immigration reform that will strengthen our economy and unite our families,” he said.
It was part of theme in which he challenged officials to do more. He stressed the role his city government could play in providing affordable housing for residents.
“I have the audacity to believe that anyone who wants to live in the city should not be forced out because of cost… Last year the city helped deliver 500 units of more affordable housing,” he said. “Yet 25,000 families in Denver need more affordable options. We want to give teachers the ability to live in the communities where they teach, officers a chance to live where they patrol.”
Hancock declared the city’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance a failure. He said it was ridden with loopholes and he called for public- and private-sector solutions.
“To specifically address this problem, we need to build, rebuild, rehab and reserve 600 [affordable] units a year for the next five years, but we can’t do this alone,” he said. “I’m asking local nonprofits, private sector developers and the financial community to help the city deliver on the goal ‘Three-by-Five’: 3,000 units in the next five years.”
Recognizing that many Denver residents lack any form of housing, the Mayor defended his controversial choice to sign last year’s ban on unauthorized camping in the city. “We can not, as a civilized society, as a global city, allow men, women and children to sleep on the streets as their best option.”
The Mayor cited city councilman Albus Brooks’s work to provide winter shelter for an average of 325 people a night in city buildings, connect 1,200 homeless individuals to services and begin work on a 24-hour resource center and indoor-outdoor homeless-friendly courtyard facility.
He said the city was working to “transform the culture of our police department,” a department that has earned a reputation for aggressiveness through high-profile brutality. “We are refocusing the police force on crime prevention, not just crime fighting. We restructured the department to get more officers out on patrol, we re-drew districts to improve response times, we worked with civil service commission to streamline our discipline process.”
He thanked Sheriff Wilson for implementing stronger step-down programs for Denver inmates that help transition them from incarceration into community jobs and housing. He thanked Denver’s voters for supporting the hiring of 110 new police officers for the first time in five years. He congratulated the Fire Department for hiring from its most diverse class in history.
Addressing the needs of the city’s younger learners, the Mayor celebrated the success of the new My Denver Card, a library card which also offers school-age children free access to all city recreation centers. More than 26,000 kids have signed up for the card since it became available three months ago. This year the city also expanded its preschool program to include 5,400 young people and opened a free summer STEM academy hosting 300 third-through-fifth graders.
“From cradle to career, we are there for our children,” said Hancock, finishing the address with remarks on Denver’s growing tech and innovation economy. Convercent launched in Denver this year with 50 employees and $10 million in venture capital. The opening of a new U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will bring “hundreds of jobs and another $440 million in global and domestic opportunities,” Hancock said.
Culturally speaking the city has looked to support these developments with events like Denver Start-Up Week and the second-annual JumpStart Biz Plan competition. The business of the arts, which Hancock noted brings $1.8 billion to the city’s economy each year, opens today and includes the opening of the second Biennial of the Americas.
After the address, audience members flooded out of the Museum’s parking lots, with police traffic assistance. A long line of cars with just a driver inside snaked at a crawl toward roaring I-70 to the north and south along the Platte River, which Hancock has promised to clean up. It trickled along, drained low by drought behind a mix of auto shops, brand-new lofts, D-I-Y plumbing outfits and snazzy graphic design firms — the shifting face of Brighton Boulevard, which, for now, is still the easiest way back to downtown Denver.
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