By Chris Krovatin
Denver residents and downtown businesses should prepare for a busy summer as Meet in the Street returns to the 16th Street Mall this month.
The outdoor event series, which is run by the Downtown Denver Partnership (DDP) and based off of similar happenings like New York Summer Streets and Ciclovia in Bogotá, includes small business participation and street performances, and will take place over five Sundays this year—June 28, July 5, July 19, August 2, and August 9. On those dates, the Free Mall Ride will be detoured to 15th and 17th Streets for the entire day.
Launched as a way to get locals to go outside, walk, bike, and enjoy the outdoor beauty of downtown Denver, Meet in the Street has become a chance for local eateries and performers to interact with large groups of people who may not consider the center of a busy city as a place to spend a day outside.
Last year’s Meet in the Street drew an average of 2,800 people per block per hour, and contained bike decoration stations, drum circles, intersection artwork, live music, games like giant chess and checkers, and of course piano painting. Special appearances and performances included live reggae at the Appaloosa Grill and an intersection painting by artist Katy Kaspar Gervargis.
Brea Olson, marketing communications manager for DDP, promises that this year’s Meet in the Street will rival last year’s. “We are working very closely with our 16th Street Mall stakeholders on the programming for Meet in the Street, with a goal to provide a day of free activities that promote community,” says Olson. While Olson is quick to mention that the event schedule isn’t final yet, she says it will involve “extended restaurant patios, face painting, roaming musicians and entertainers, a children’s area, exercise and art opportunities, and more.”
Denver has made an effort to create a more interactive urban environment downtown, and Meet in the Street is an important aspect of that for the DDP. By bringing visitors and locals alike outside and into the street, they hope to open people’s eyes to the 16th Street Mall as not only a business hub, but also a place to take in culture and the sights and sounds of the city.
Meet in the Street is part of a push by city officials to make Denver a more public-transport-oriented city that encourages walking, biking, and other methods of getting around that don’t involve a car.
Starting this month, the Mall will feature six new IKE (interactive kiosk experience) stands, electronic kiosks that provide information to users, helping them map the city and providing directions and information. The DDP hopes the use of these kiosks, which officially launch on June 4, will make walking around downtown Denver a more hands-on experience.
Last year, some worried that the motives behind the event and the rise in downtown urbanization were not entirely noble. That the city used $1.8 million to increase the police presence last year around the area that Meet in the Street is supposed to take place suggested to some that the event—and events like it—are meant to draw attention away from or gloss over issues of crime and homelessness downtown. Last year the DDP assured residents that events like Meet in the Street are actually about “activation”—bringing to life parts of the city that may not be currently popular or appreciated.
On the one hand, activation could also mean gentrification, a push to make the 16th Street Mall a heavily-policed, tourist-friendly outdoor walkway a la New York’s Times Square. On the other hand, given the positive reaction to last year’s Meet in the Street, the DDP’s plan of activation might have the intended result. Even without the art and events that Meet in the Street hosts, the more visitors and weekenders who experience downtown Denver, the more they’ll wish to experience it again afterwards. Once the Mall becomes a return destination for these attendees, they’ll hopefully begin to understand the neighborhood, its locals, and its needs a little better. ■
For more information on Meet in the Street, go to www.downtowndenver.com.