You probably have a pretty good idea of where to donate clothing and furniture—but what do you do with the rest of your junk? Denver is full of nonprofits upcycling everything from office supplies to old paint to karaoke machines. Use this guide to help you figure out how to give a new life to practically everything cluttering up your closets.Read More
This column shares the thoughts and opinions of the diverse group of people who make up the Denver VOICE vendor pool. Have a question for VOICE vendors? Help us continue the dialogue by submitting your questions to email@example.com.
What is the biggest misconception about homelessness?
The biggest misconception is that homeless people are lazy, shiftless, no good, and no-count. That “these people” have never had anything in life, they don’t want anything, and they will never contribute anything worth mentioning. That they are a bunch of alcoholics and drug addicts. And most of all, that they wish to be homeless.
That people are homeless because they are lazy or on dope.
I think the biggest misconception of homelessness is that they are lazy. People don’t know that many homeless are unable to work due to an illness or handicap.
Not all homeless are mentally ill or drug addicts! My feeling is—regardless of why you are homeless—once you have hit rock bottom, no one really wants to help. Some of us didn’t have family to help us out there on the road of life. ■
By Sarah Harvey, Managing Editor
In your hands you are holding all the information you need to become a community superhero.
I don’t know a lot about superheroes, so to help prepare for this issue I consulted some experts: my niece and nephews, ages six, eight, and nine. I asked them about the qualities a person needed to have to be considered a superhero. The general consensus was that superheroes have exceptional abilities and powers, and/or they save people.Read More
I go to an outreach at Dry Bones. The volunteers there provide food and bus passes for youth at risk, and also help me purchase my bus passes for half price. It is a great program.Read More
A vacant lot at 38th and Walnut Streets is slated to become Denver's first tiny home community.
By Sonia Christensen
If all goes according to plan, Denver will see two new temporary tiny house villages built in 2017—both intended to provide an alternative type of shelter for people experiencing homelessness. The first, called Beloved Community Village and organized in part by Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, will be constructed in late March or early April and will only take 1-2 days to complete. The second one, which is being planned by St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, could be operational by this summer.
Beloved Community Village is the collaborative effort of several partners: Denver Homeless Out Loud (DHOL), Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, Alternative Solutions Advocacy Project, Bayaud Enterprises, Radian, Inc., the Buck Foundation, and Beloved Community Mennonite Church. The group plans to build 11 tiny houses and one larger, yurt-like circHouse to serve as a community building.
Beloved will be built on land that is already targeted to be developed at some point for low-income housing. The village will exist on this plot of land for no more than 180 days and then it will be taken down and relocated to another plot of land. Interfaith is currently looking at six other possible future locations. The first location will be on approximately 26,000 square feet at 3733 Walnut St.
Nathan Hunt, program director of economic justice at Interfaith, said the RINO BID board voted to support the project with the understanding that Beloved Community Village will develop a “good neighbor agreement” in partnership with them, which the village organizers are now working on. Hunt also said the Cole neighborhood board gave a warm reception to the idea.
According to the proposal that Interfaith and its partners presented to the city in January, those organizing the village will seek individuals experiencing homelessness who may not feel a traditional shelter is an option. For example, they list LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and people working non-traditional hours.
“I think any philosophy for a social program needs to be designed for humans. Humans are complex and a one-size-fits-all model doesn’t work,” said Hunt.
DHOL will select the 11-22 residents of the village and provide support with village governance, though the residents will be responsible for creating their own community agreement. According to Hunt, “DHOL have really been the leaders on this. They’ve been pushing for something like this but they’ve had trouble getting a plot of land.”
The land they have found, along with their partners, currently belongs to the Urban Land Conservancy and will be leased by Beloved Community Mennonite Church. In addition, Bayaud Enterprises will provide laundry services with a mobile laundry truck and Denver Food Rescue will provide fresh foods and access to food stamps.
Evan Dreyer, deputy chief of staff at the Mayor’s Office, expressed support for Beloved Community Village, saying that the mayor is committed and open to all possible solutions to address homelessness and affordable housing. He also commented on the unique obstacles facing a new project like this: “The challenge and opportunity is that it’s a new project and as with anything new it requires more of a heavy lift. We just want to help the proponents get it done and get it done well.”
According to Ally Dodge, community correspondent for the St. Andrews tiny house village (Denver’s second proposed tiny house community), the church actually has plans to build a more permanent project on the lot adjacent to their church in the future, but this village is something they can get started on while they wait for all the pieces of that larger project to come together. “This is something we can do now,” she said. “We can immediately have an impact.”
St. Andrews plans to construct eight tiny homes, as well as a shared kitchen space and a shared restroom and shower area, the funds for which they anticipate getting mostly through grants. Like Beloved Community, St. Andrew’s tiny house program will operate in partnership with several other nonprofits and organization. One of those is the Delores Project, a shelter that provides services for unaccompanied women and transgender individuals experiencing homelessness. The Delores Project will select the residents that will live in the tiny house village and will also offer support in helping those individuals move on to more permanent situations. According to Dodge, the village is not meant to provide long-term housing, and though they will not kick anyone out who has not found permanent housing, they expect that residents will move on within three to six months. “It may take longer,” she said, “But we’re just going to get in there and try and see what happens.”
The Delores Project will also offer support in forming the set of rules that the residents will live by, though it will technically be up to the residents themselves to create a code of conduct.
Dodge said the church is very enthusiastic about the tiny house village. However, there has been pushback from the neighborhood. “We’ve had a lot of people voice comments, questions, and concerns, as one would imagine. Initially I think that a lot of gossip, rumor, and innuendo get circulated and we’ve had to dispel a lot of mythology of what we were trying to accomplish. We’ve been very open to questions and concerns and we’ve been trying to address them individually as they come up. There were a lot of questions about sanitation, there were questions about how would we run electricity and water and those are all questions that are incredibly valid that we’ve been working through with the city.”
One of the largest misconceptions that Dodge said the church faced in organizing this project was the image that many people had in their minds about who would be staying at the shelter. “To many folks, the face of the homeless is the dirty man in rags, someone who is on drugs or drinking, or mentally ill, people sleeping on the ground or on a park bench,” wrote Dodge in an email. “They don’t see the woman who fears for her safety at night, who has skills to get a job if she could catch a break, who is motivated and actively seeking resources to get herself out of her predicament.” Dodge and St. Andrew’s made efforts to educate neighbors on the many faces of homelessness in Denver. “When we tell people that part of the benefit of getting into the village is having an address so they can get a job, people are kind of surprised,” said Dodge. “That thought never occurred to them.”
According to Dodge the city has been generally supportive of the plan, but because there are not a lot of rules in place for temporary structures like this, current rules and regulations will have to be modified in order for the project to move ahead. St. Andrews expects that to be a three- to six-month process. If all goes according to plan, construction could be underway in May. ■
By Paul Karolyi
More than a million people are projected to move to the Denver metro area by 2040, according to the Denver Regional Council of Governments. For city officials, urban planners, and other stakeholders in Denver’s communities, the expected population boom presents a challenge: How can we uphold our values while managing growth?
By Claire Martin
Todd Burton, who died June 20, 2016, was a familiar sight at the corner of California and 20th streets, seated on his bag and flying a sign that said “SMILE!” Sometimes he played a guitar.
Denver Public Library’s community resource specialists are trained social workers who can help people with everything from applying for food stamps to dealing with trauma.
By Matthew Van Deventer | Photos by Stanley Sigalov
By Tim Covi
Photography by Ross Evertson
What do you think will really define Denver—what are the important issues people need to be thinking about—in 2011?
Money. I mean, the budget cuts will continue to be really critical. And in a city that really works fairly well, that’s gonna mean we might have to pay for some services we haven’t paid for before. Or get rid of some services. So that’s going to be a big issue for people—will streets be swept less often than they have been? Will parks be cleaned up less often than they have been? Will people have to start paying for trash? And I know there [were] some ideas floated that you would have to pay for recycling. So, on one level I think people will get very concerned about that. And then statewide, the cuts to education are going to be huge.
Do you think that’s going to define the incoming mayoral candidacy at all?
Well it should. That and I would say police issues should be the big issues people are really talking about, but you don’t know which are the ones that are going to catch fire with voters yet.
Talk to me a little bit about police issues. Last year was no exception. There’s always some police scandal in Denver.
The ratio of police beatings and complaints about police beatings is higher per capita in Denver than in any other city in the country. This is for complaints. So that might mean that people in Denver are just more content; they feel more secure complaining than in other cities. So maybe our cops aren’t bad; maybe it’s just our citizens are more active. But certainly we’ve got a lot of outstanding complaints about brutality that haven’t been dealt with. And interestingly Bill Vidal says he wants to deal with them before he leaves office…he’s got 6 months and he’s not running again. So, that’ll I think be one of the most interesting stories—to watch what he can do in six months.
Let’s talk about the nayoral race. It’s definitely going to be a defining aspect of the coming year. There are thirteen people on the ticket. Having seen several races in Denver, is this significantly different than past mayoral races?
We’ve had close to this many [candidates] before. I mean when you think about Hickenlooper, there were at least seven fairly strong, viable candidates. Or big enough to be on panels that year. The year Peña was elected it was probably as many. So, it’s the same for a decade when there haven’t been a lot of openings. I don’t see this one catching fire yet, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we still see another candidate come forward.
I do think you’re right, that the mayoral race in some ways will be really defining. What was interesting is that, eight years ago I got a briefing from old time political pundits and they’re like, “Okay this is a confidential briefing, but here’s how we see the mayor’s race going, and Ari Zavaras is clearly the leader.” And I said, you know, you’re crazy if you don’t think Hickenlooper’s gonna win. That is Denver today. You know? And no one had noticed, in the old guard, that that’s what Denver is now. It is these entrepreneurs. It is people like John Hickenlooper. Now that’s what it was eight years ago. What is it gonna be now? Is it what Michael Hancock represents, or Doug Linkhart? I don’t have a feel yet for it. That’s also why I think somebody else might still jump in.
Do you think that Hickenlooper is leaving much of a different legacy to whoever takes over office next, relative to mayors before him? People really appreciated him in office.
They appreciated how fun he was. Did he do a better job say than Federico Peña? I don’t think so. So I mean, Federico Peña really changed the way this city looked and in a lot of ways hasn’t gotten the credit for how people really looked at a more modern city and revisited and re-thought about design and how important urban planning was going to be. So, I think Hickenlooper, in the sense of trying to run it more like a business than a government—people will remember that, but city employees I think will tell you they’re pretty happy Hickenlooper’s gone. A lot of them. I think Hickenlooper did a far better job than anyone thought, but more than anything else he made the city feel good about itself. And that’s good.
Denver, even through the recession, has been developing really rapidly. What do you think the priorities should be for development in the city in 2011?
Well certainly you want to be sure you’ve got some infill, so that you don’t have a lot of empty shells. And I think that’s going to be part of the problem—that places that were built [and] weren’t done by really great developers, which could be falling apart fairly quickly…You don’t want to those turning into slums.
Do you have things in mind as you’re talking about this?
Oh yeah. There are some projects right along the Platte—there are apartments now that, you know, would never have been allowed to be built probably in the last ten years. They were built maybe a dozen years ago. And I’ve heard nothing but complaints about that. So that’ll be interesting because now it’s such a prime piece of real estate. But everyone who lives there just says it’s a mess.
In 2011 who are the rising stars?
You can read about it in our issue…February 17th. We’ve got this MasterMind program. We’re working on that right now for the issue of the 17th, so I don’t want to give those people away!
The MasterMind Awards focuses on the arts community. Denver is in this transition between a city that is looked at as becoming more sophisticated art-wise, but it’s not quite there yet. Can you reflect on that at all and where you see it going?
Well, part of it is, a city has to maintain (unless you’re New York or Los Angeles or some international destination), you have to be able to sustain your own artists. You’re not going to have people coming—huge numbers of people coming for tourism to see Denver shows. It’s just not going to happen. People in the region might, because geographically we’re still fairly isolated, but it’s our own fault if we aren’t supporting the local visual arts enough. I mean, we are the ones who have to support it. We can’t count on other people coming in.
I actually think in some ways the local visual arts scene isn’t as strong as it was years ago. And partly it’s because there aren’t as many co-ops as there were. I mean co-ops were just huge 30 years ago here. It’s getting a little better.
Interesting. Most people talk up the gallery strips and the new Rhino district.
Right. Some of them are coming along really nicely. But you know, Navajo, that area was hoppin’ 30 years ago. And one of the other problems with booming economies is you lose some of those strips. You know the artists are almost always the precursors of what will become the next hot part of town, and then they have to go. Now there’s enough area in Rhino that they should be able to stay there for a pretty long time...
I love the local art scene. But in some ways the institutions maybe aren’t as exciting as they were 30 years ago. … On some of the gallery scene, the underground gallery scene has always been great here. And I think that will always be the strongest part of Denver’s art scene. Because it’s the next level up of galleries that don’t seem to be able to make it.
There isn’t the educational support for really viable artists either. So the mid-level-high-end galleries don’t have a lot of meat to work with.
Right. And especially now if people aren’t getting art educations. We probably have now the first group of people who’ve gotten out of school and have had no art education at all, and do they even think to go out and buy stuff? And with the lower, the underground galleries, you can make it kind of cultural and hip and they think they’re gonna do it, but it’s moving up to the next level [where it becomes difficult].
What do you think will really define Denver—what are the important issues people need to be thinking about—in 2011?
Well obviously the economy continues to be huge. When I look at 5280’s business, when I look at our clients, when I’m just out talking to people in general, I think that we’re slowly getting to a point where there’s confidence creeping back into the system. There’s not that sense of panic that there was two years ago or even a year ago. And I think that’s key.
So, the economy, jobs—obviously that’s at the top of everybody’s list. I think directly related to that of course is the mayor’s race. And both as someone who watches politics and as someone who lives in the city, I think it’s gonna be a fascinating couple of months, you know? There are some really interesting candidates out there. …They’re all people who are qualified. And so, I think we have this opportunity to have a really intelligent discussion about what the future of this city [holds].
There is an interesting cross section of candidates. Who do you see as the major players in it right now? The people who are pretty serious out of those thirteen?
I think it’s a really crowded field at this point. And well, let me step back. First of all I do want to say, I’m disappointed that Walter Isenberg chose not to run. And that’s not to say that I think he would have won. That’s not to say that he would have been who I personally end up voting for. But I think he would have brought an interesting dimension to the conversation. You know I think John Hickenlooper showed that a businessman can bring certain things of value to the job. That’s not to say that career politicians can’t, but I think John brought some great things to the table. And I think Walter would have been in that mold.
Obviously anybody whose last name is Romer you can’t discount in this state. You know that’s just a given. And Chris is a really smart guy, works really hard, so he’s gonna be a force.
Michael Hancock has gotten off to an early, fast start and is raising money in ways that I don’t think people thought he was going to, so he’s definitely going to be a force.
James Mejia I think is somebody who has the potential to be a surprise candidate in all this. I mean, very well liked, very connected to—I need to come up with a good term for this, but—the family and children community. The mommy-bloggers and women that support the Colorado Coalition for the Children’s campaign. That’s a strong voting block. And he’s paid his dues in that world.
For better or worse, you know, politics even on a local level like this are still about money. And in such a crowded field, I think there’s going to have to be a lot of money spent to stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately I don’t think a whole lot of it is going to be spent on magazine advertising (laughs).
You had mentioned that a businessperson brings an interesting angle to the race and to office. And considering where we are as a city—we’re poised for more huge growth. How do you think that plays into the race, and into office once someone takes it?
Well, I think that if you go back and you sort of look at the continuum of Peña, Webb, Hickenlooper, you know, it is this idea of imagine a great city, build a great city, and what John did I think is continue upon that. I think John was a big part of marketing the city. You know, promoting that idea. And that’s going to need to continue. We need to continue forward. But it’s hard to do that in this kind of economy. So I think, someone who can come in and find and eliminate waste, and is also going to look at things a little differently and is going to come up with different twists on how to do things…you know, business people tend to do better on that front.
Do you think that Hickenlooper has left a legacy that is any different from past mayors? Someone’s going to have to fill that role in a different way?
I mean I definitely see it as a continuum of the last three mayors. They were all not afraid to think big. You know? None of them were status quo mayors. Sometimes, during the Peña and Webb years we were dragged kicking and screaming with things like DIA and whatnot, but I think Denver’s become more accustomed to change. … It’s a whole different world. And the Union Station project’s only gonna be the next step in that. I mean, look where we are right now—15th and Wazee. Well five years ago Wazee was the western edge of downtown. Five years from now, it’s dead center. The whole town is changing and morphing because of these projects.
Considering how quickly we are developing and that that’s a major aspect of the city, what do you think the priorities should be for development in the city in 2011?
I think that as a city we’ve done well in developing the kind of big picture amenities that would make someone say, “Oh I want to move into the city.” Bike paths, cultural [fare], great restaurants, new library, Pepsi Center, Coors Field, all these big, big projects. I think now, and I hope this will be an issue in the mayor’s race, [there] are sort of twin issues that could scuttle all of this, and that’s education and safety. If the schools suck, families will stop moving here. And the ones who are already here will move away.
I think we have sort of a grace period going right now where, the families who are moving here are willing, to a certain extent, to be pioneers and to try to support something and try to pick something up, that we all admit is not what it should be, and bring it up. But, you know, there needs to be results and there needs to be results in a reasonable time frame or that patience will go away.
And [by] the same token, safety. t So, to me, those are the two elephants in the room that I hope these candidates address or get forced to address on the campaign.
Denver’s at a crossroads in the art world, where some people look at the city as having a tokenizing art scene that can’t be taken seriously, while others say there is a lot of sophistication coming in. What do you think about the arts in Denver in 2011?
I absolutely agree. … And, you know, I think we as a city, and I’ll be honest, we as a magazine, need to figure out some ways to help nurture that and push it along. Because I think you’re right. It is at that cusp, that tipping point between only a few people know about it and becoming something big that a lot of people can participate in and celebrate.
In terms of people, who do you see as the rising stars in Denver?
We’ll be revisiting [our top 50 edition] this year. I guess my short answer is: wait for that!
What do you think will really define Denver in 2011—what are the important things people need to be thinking about?
There are some really key public infrastructure projects that are underway or are in the planning process. One being the 16th Street Mall. The community’s worked for a couple years now to create a plan. The plan is completed and now the key will be to identify funding sources.
The other exciting piece of public infrastructure that will be completed is 14th Street. That entire street starting at the Webb building will be redeveloped to become a true gateway street for downtown. It’s going to be beautiful. … New trees, wider sidewalks, better lighting. And all of that is important because, when the environment is attractive and conducive to pedestrians and inviting, it attracts businesses. So that goes to the next point. How do we continue to attract businesses to Denver as well as to downtown Denver?
Denver is very good at making these deliberate development plans and being conscious of the way we grow our city. What do you think are some of the challenges coming our way in the coming year or couple of years?
Funding even in the best of times is a challenge. But on the really large-scale public projects, for example on the 16th Street Mall, Federal funding is essential. So, as much as we have private investment through the Business Improvement District to help maintain the mall, as much as the city and RTD invest, it’s still going to take more than that.
FastTracks, for our community at large, is probably one of the most significant projects that we need to ensure comes to fruition.
Can you talk about that? What does that mean for the city of Denver if that doesn’t get completed?
Maybe less about what it means if it doesn’t come to fruition and more about what it does mean if it does come to fruition. … If you think about the volume of people that will be able to access the center city, because transit all comes into one place. But furthermore, as time goes on, we’re not just competing against other parts of the region for economic development in Denver, we’re competing nationally, we’re competing internationally. When you look at cities that are excelling and attracting all the growing businesses—a high quality, effective transit system is essential. It’s a key component for the future workforce, it’s a key component giving access to employees, and for us not to have that puts us at an extreme disadvantage.
The Union Station build out fits into this. Talk to me about that.
A really critical project for the future of the city is going to be the redevelopment of Union Station and that surrounding area, because it will attract more retail. It’ll be kind of the welcome mat for FastTracks as people arrive into the city. It will also attract more residents. It’s going to be mixed use so there’ll be a lot of variety brought into the area. And then we really need to look at what we’re doing with Union Station itself, the train station. We’re really fortunate to have such a cool historic station. And there are a lot of ideas on the table right now with what to do with it. So ideally, within the next 4-6 months there will be a plan and somebody identified to come in there and do the project.
What else will happen with that area within the next year?
You’ll continue to see development. We’ve already broken ground on a building there. IMA [Financial Group] will be building a new headquarters there. And then you’ll start seeing other development even grow around it. Because there’s the project itself, but then you’ll start seeing other buildings around it attract different types of tenants based on what’s happening there. So the benefit is exponential.
Obviously a big thing that’s going to be on the stage this year is the mayoral race. Who are you behind in this?
Well, I think right now there are about 13 candidates in the race. We are going through a pretty thorough process to vet the candidates. As an organization we don’t take a position on a candidate. However, we have a very clear 20-year plan for downtown. Over 3,000 people helped develop that plan. That plan was then adopted by city council. We have a pretty good framework to talk to candidates to see: are you in line with the plan that the community and the stakeholders developed and city council adopted?
Do you think that Hickenlooper will be difficult to replace? He’s been so supportive of the business community.
You know I honestly believe that there’s always the right leader for the right time. And there’s no question that Governor Hickenlooper as mayor was absolutely the right person for the time period in which he served. And I think now the key is to look out in the future and see what we need based on what the circumstances are going forward. I mean, he was a tremendous ally. We worked very closely with him; he represented the city, he gave it energy, he gave it vision, and he was collaborative. So all of those traits need to carry over to the next mayor. At the same time we need to think about what we need from the next mayor.
What do you see as the big budgetary issues that are going to be a struggle in the city this year?
From a budget standpoint, I don’t know that the administration’s going to need to come in and say, “Okay now we’re going to cut here and now we’re going to cut here.” So much of that hard work has already been done.
Our future lies in growing revenue. And I think the way that we need to look at growing revenue is to look at growing businesses. Not necessarily by charging businesses more. That doesn’t work. It has diminishing returns.
Do you see any rising stars, either in the business community or at large in 2011?
John Schlagel. You guys would really like John. [He] owns Snooze. And John is also chairing, on behalf of the [DDP], the Arapahoe Square planning process. John has proven himself as a leader in his own right—not just in his respective business and in his industry. He’s led some innovative initiatives. He’s really worked to hire more disadvantaged people into Snooze and help them get back on their feet. He’s really been a focal point in that part of the community [in Arapahoe Square], because you know right there is where all the social service providers are, and he embraces the opportunity to make change. He’s been busy getting his business going, and now he’s really starting to emerge as somebody that will make a real difference in the community over the long haul. •
By Kristin Pazulski
Photography by Adrian DiUbaldo
Another group of casually dressed business people runs by you, trying to catch the bus, talking about the latest speaker and wearing lanyard tags naming the convention they are attending at the Hyatt.
You look down at your jeans and sweater, and wonder if you’re supposed to be wearing a suit to be on the 16th Street Mall, because that’s all you can see. But no, it’s just that Denver’s downtown is different. With fewer people living in Denver than working and visiting, the downtown area’s one dominating street, the 16th Street Mall, sees more traffic from the more than 100,000 office workers and 2.1 million annual visitors than it sees from Denver residents.
Not only that, but walk a block off of 16th Street and the story is much different.
Downtown Denver is dominated by a 15-block strip of stores, restaurants and vendors that attract most of the area’s pedestrian traffic. The Mall Ride is beeping, bags are rustling, conversations float from cafes and the street furniture as people take a rest from shopping or walking. But the adjoining streets are quiet. There are shops and restaurants—plenty of shops, some which have been there for years. But the bustle is missing. Cars whizz by in four lanes of one-way traffic. The white-walking-man lights go on, but only a few people saunter across the street—most on their way to a hotel, a bus stop or the Mall.
Those side streets could be the future of Denver’s downtown development, but having oriented the city around one street, what will it take to build a more balanced city-center—one with shopping, entertainment, residences and pedestrian areas throughout?
Photography By Adrian DiUbaldo
Brandon Carter had just reawakened his long defunct love with the bicycle when he learned about bike polo. “I saw it on xrocksthespot, a blog about cool shit to do in Denver. I saw videos of bike polo, and I was with that,” he said.
Before setting foot, or more accurately wheel, on a hardcourt, he was addicted. He went home and made a mallet in his backyard with an old ski pole and plastic piping (the typical mallet materials for bike polo). Riding his Goodwill-purchased bicycle, he made it to his first pick-up game with the then recently formed Denver bike polo club, the Mallet Mafia (now going through a name change to "Denver Hardcourt Bike Polo").
“I sucked when I went,” Carter said. “I was all afraid ‘cause I don’t ride a fixed gear bike and everyone else was pretty much on a fixed gear bike and I was afraid they were going to judge me, which they did. And then I sucked at polo for a really long time. I still suck at polo, but I really sucked then. I couldn’t hit the ball.”
Despite his self-proclaimed lack of talent for polo, Carter was obsessed, as are most of the bike polo players, many of whom play two to four times a week.
“I’m definitely addicted to bike polo. There’s no doubt in my mind about it,” Carter said.
The first time I saw a typical polo game, I was at Will Rogers State Park outside of Los Angeles. Returning from a hike, there in front of us was a lush green field. There was little cheering, and most of the spectators were accidental, having also returned from a hike or picnicking when the game started.
I was enamored by the grace of the horses and amazed by the accuracy of the players’ shots. The mallet poles looked thin and long, dangerously fragile. Not many goals were made, but the game was fascinating to watch all the same. Graceful, peaceful, and impressive.
Hardcourt bike polo is a whole different kind of impressive.
On a hot, sunny, Wednesday summer evening in Capitol Hill, I stood in the shade of a tree in the Morey Middle School yard, eating a mini cupcake and watching a bike polo match.
There was grace, agility and some accuracy, but this was a much different kind of polo. Lush grass was replaced by asphalt. Mallets flew at a ball among crunching gears, whirring petals and wheel guards protecting vulnerable spokes from mallet blows.
Hardcourt bike polo is exactly what it sounds like—players riding bicycles on a hard surface (usually a hockey rink or converted tennis court), handling the ball with a mallet, trying to score. The game is rugged, not in an outdoorsy way, but in a hipster bike culture way. And like Carter, it’s easy to assume that bike polo is for a fixed gear, messenger bike subculture. But in the past 10 years, bike polo has grown into its own subculture, with teams popping up in almost every major city in the U.S. and internationally.
The first world tournament was held in Philadelphia last year, and tournaments are held regularly throughout the year. Colorado players travel around the country to attend club-sponsored tournaments monthly. They pay travel costs themselves and crash at fellow polo players’ homes to save money.
“At this point [bike polo] is very DIY,” said Nick Applegate, who started playing in upstate New York and started a Boulder team this year. “The whole culture is very like, you got to figure out what works for you. There is a huge array of different kinds of bikes that people ride, from road bikes to mountain bikes and fixed gear bikes and everything in between; it’s a really interesting culture to surround yourself in.”
Players are impossible to pigeonhole demographically. The players in Colorado range from 18 years old to their mid-30s, though there are a few older players in other clubs. In Arizona and New York, there are players in their 60s. The male to female ratio is disproportionate, but women are always welcome, and are often encouraged to join.
“You could argue that it’s part of the urban bike culture, but if you want to narrow that down to anything more than that, like fixie culture, I don’t think Brandon [Carter] and I view ourselves as fixie kind of guys,” said Ben Turner, who started playing with Denver Hardcourt Bike Polo last May. “I think what it is, is people that have a passion for bikes.”
But like any do-it-yourself (DIY) activity rising in popularity, the sport and its local clubs are confronting an identity crisis.
For the most part, hardcourt bike polo is played similarly everywhere. Teams of three play against each other, usually in 10- or 12-minute games, or until five points is reached by one side. The players are usually chosen by blindly holding up six mallets, each mallet representing a player, and throwing three to the left and three to the right.
The main rules are simple, and there are really only three.
1—If you put your foot down, you need to tap out then come back into play.
2—Score with the end of the mallet.
3—Don’t be a dick.
But each club has tweaks to the rules that differ from other clubs, so a league has formed among the die-hard polo players to create a governing body over the bike polo clubs in North America; part of the league’s plan is to determine a set of standardized rules for tournaments. Some players see the standardization as a threat to the culture of the sport and a step toward commercializing it.
“It’s a tough group to set up because they are anarchists, sort of, and don’t want rules and regulations,” said George Wall, who started a bike polo club in Colorado Springs.
“There’s a lot of anxiety in the polo culture because people don’t want to let go of that DIY, that organic evolution of the sport,” said Applegate. “I think it’s a mixed blessing. I’m in support of it becoming mainstream; I’m not super excited about it being ridiculously commercialized.”
Carter supports standardizing rules for tournaments. He said it will provide broader access to the sport, and he doesn’t see the DIY aspect of it leaving anytime soon.
“[Creating a set of rules] is necessary, because when you go to another place to play polo and the rules are totally different ... then it kind of rocks your brain a little bit,” Carter said, adding later, “I think it will still be DIY. I mean, maybe you’ll be able to go to Wal-Mart and buy a bike polo bike in a year, but you still need to do stuff to make your bike feel good for you.”
As I watched the June pick-up game, Turner explained that Denver Hardcourt Bike Polo is also at a sort of crossroads. Taking a break between games, he pointed to the group of 14 players. He said most of these and the other 15-or-so players that attend pick-up games regularly have been playing since Denver Hardcourt Bike Polo started last year. With more than a dozen tournaments behind some of the players, Denver Hardcourt's skills have vastly improved, but he and others are wondering where they go from here.
One development that most Denver Hardcourt players agree would help the team is a home court.
Currently they hold games anywhere a central space large enough to play on can be found. The primary location has been a middle school playground yard at 13th Avenue and Emerson Street in Capitol Hill. But the location is less than ideal. Cracks and dips threaten riders and without wall boundaries, the players spend as much time chasing balls as they do playing polo.
“We very badly want a court. It’s hard to get a good idea of bike polo on this court because there are so many things wrong with it,” said Cherri Czajkowski, one of the girls who play with Denver Hardcourt Bike Polo. “[The Capitol Hill court] is awesome in that it’s a central meeting spot and we can kind of just hit around the ball. But it’s not ideal because you don’t have boards, you’re chasing around the ball, there are cracks in the pavement.”
Denver Hardcourt Bike Polo, including Brent Tongco who works in the Mayor’s office, has approached the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation about a place to play. The players are willing to repair and maintain a dilapidated tennis court or similar space in order to earn their right to play there.
Parks and Recreation’s Mark Tabor said he doesn’t have a formal proposal from the group yet, but added that court space may arise when the city looks into installing multi-use courts in currently unused tennis court areas.
But even with a lack of a regular pitch in Denver, interest in the sport is growing.
The Colorado Springs club, Polo High, began around the same time as Denver Hardcourt Bike Polo. About 10-15 players come out to the twice-weekly pickups in the summer, and more in the winter, when other activities like mountain biking aren’t battling for riders’ attention.
In April, Applegate started the Boulder club, which usually sees four to six people show up to its pick-up games.
“I’m definitely addicted to it,” said Applegate. “I think it’s a good outlet. There’s different ways of playing the game. It can be a lot of finesse. It can be a lot of release of tension. A lot of people really get angry and emotional on the court. But I think it’s like any other sport where you develop camaraderie and you really have to be intimate with your machine and know how to fix things as they break.”
Watching the club play in June, I witnessed both the intensity of the game and the passion the players have for their club and it’s future.
“We’ve been trying to figure this out for a while,” Carter said, referring to bike polo’s hold on its dedicated players. “There’s something about riding your bike in general that’s awesome. It just can’t be explained. I think a part of it is that you are literally in tune with the machine. You can feel it … and then combine that with a competitive sport. … Biking and polo together are pretty fucking amazing.” •
By Travis Egedy
It seems there may be something of a feminist (feminine?) revolution bubbling under the surface of Denver’s artistic communities. In last month’s VOICE, I wrote about the no holds barred Titwrench music festival, a local festival of progressive female music and culture that is run and operated by a group of strong, independent women. The festival is an all-inclusive look into contemporary feminist culture and the sounds that go along with it.
As it turns out, this creative energy by groups of women is not just limited to the underground music community, and I was compelled to write about some women who are making similar strides in the underground visual art scene in Denver. These women are a loose collective that call themselves “Pink Collar Glam,” taking their name from the “Pink Collar Army,” who were a group of working class women responding to the idea of “glamour” in the 18th century.
by Kimberly Gunning
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released a study naming Denver as a national model for helping the homeless. The study focused on the homeless’ access to mainstream services and how cities have responded to the housing over services policy shift by the HUD in 2000.