Denver Direct: A City for the Tsar: The parks look terrible
Sunday, August 17, 2008
(Editor’s Note: Phil Goodstein is a Denver historian and author. This commentary was originally published in his newsletter, “The Naysayer,” in August 2008, and is reprinted with permission. While this commentary does not deal directly with closed commercial events in parks, it expresses what the writer sees as the contempt with which the city treats parks and citizens. It is this contempt which leads to the city’s assumption that all the public parks are alternative sources of revenue. By allowing admission-based events in parks to derive revenue, the city prevents free and open access and encourages lucrative sales of alcoholic beverages in parks.)
A City for the Tsar: The parks look terrible
by Phil Goodstein
Last year, voters authorized a massive bond issue. The results have been predictable. Botanic Gardens is using the money to try to build a virtual fortress at the price of public spaces and rights-of-way. The Symphony is more disdainful of listeners than ever while it eagerly seeks to ruin its concert hall. Most of all, the parks look terrible.
Some of the pious exponents of good government have lamented the massive brown spots in park lawns. They are especially concerned because the Democrats are coming. Denver, they insist, must present a smiling face to the visitors. In the process, they show their intense hatred of the city and its inhabitants. Such individuals simultaneously show an inability to link cause and effect. No one embodies this more than Jeannie Robb, the woman recently elected president of city council, a representative who disdains answering constituents’ letters.
Gregory Potemkin is the true inspiration for her and other local boosters. He was prime minister of Catherine the Great in the late 18th century when massive peasant revolts tore through the tsarist empire. When Catherine announced a tour of the countryside to see whether the populace had any reason to be dissatisfied with the status quo, Potemkin led the advance party. He spiffed up towns and saw that workers built impressive facades. Simultaneously, a heavy military presence kept rebels gagged during the tsar’s visit. After she left, seeing everything was wonderful, Potemkin allowed the peasants to return to their everyday misery.
Denver adopted the policies of Potemkin for the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1993. It repeated them when Bill Clinton and company occupied the town in 1997 for the Summit of the Eight. In the process, the police swept the homeless off Colfax. In no time, the masquerades created for the visits of the dignitaries were falling apart. Indeed, proponents of last year’s bond issue made their repair, especially at the Civic Center, a prime reason voters had to hike taxes.
That ten-year-old “improvements” have crumbled is indicative of the shoddiness of a city administration that emphasizes appearances for wealthy and influential visitors over the amenities and comforts of everyday residents. The more city hall has awarded contracts on the basis of a “public/private partnership” to politically well-connected firms with the proper sexual, racial, and ethnic ownership, the less concern it has had about the quality of work. A scorn of the populace has been at the forefront of many park efforts.
During most of this decade, Washington Park users have been confronted with a huge mud hole on the southern half of the greenery, the empty Grasmere Lake. At the behest of the Denver Water Department, crews repeatedly drained the pond in the name of saving water so the city could sell it to the suburbs to enhance sprawl. Now that the lake has again been filled, algae problems besmirch it, especially near its inlet by the City Ditch, another amenity the DWD has done its all to ruin in the name of selling water to the suburbs. Even worse are conditions on City Park Lake. A massive draining and waste water effort have seen it emerge as more an algae swamp than a beauty spot. Much to the surprise of the planners, the recycled water is rich in nitrogen, fueling the growth of algae.
Anybody concerned about the appearance of the parks would be asking why the administration never foresaw this most predictable result. Instead of doing so, they resort to banal rhetoric. By insisting the city put on cosmetics for the Democratic convention while failing to redress the endemic incompetent management of city hall, they show their intense contempt of the populace.
Given this background, the city has screamed that protesters wish to besmirch the park by camping in it. In the process, the administration has been silent in dealing with those who deceitfully call on national activists to “Do it in Denver!” Those frustrated with the political status quo, but who have little vision and no original thought, have promised “free food, free music, free thought, free political education” in the community. Here they truly wish to recreate 1968: a manipulative deceit of idealistic young people fully worthy of the worst of the establishment. Part of the chaos of 1968 in Chicago stemmed from the arrogant lies of those sponsoring “The Festival of Life,” the anti-war protests. They promised lodging and food, making no serious effort to provide them. Mayor Richard Daley and the Democratic establishment, in turn, showed they understood only crude physical force and were unwilling to admit that street politics are a full and worthy form of participation in the commonweal.
Similarly, those objecting to having these political activists camp in the park have been silent in explaining why the city so fears protest. The administration is ready to close roads to assure the security of the Democrats while complaining about the traffic disruptions of political demonstrations and parades. Seemingly, the Democrats are so fragile that an exposure to dissident opinions would send them into convulsions and ruin their convention.
If the city had any wit, it would observe that the people who really hate protest and a free, full political debate are many of those behind Re-Create 68. This specifically refers to individuals who have readily employed stormtrooper tactics in silencing ltalian-Americans celebrating Columbus Day. Far more than Hickenlooper or even Daley, they have allied themselves with ideologues in the American Indian Movement who despise reason and celebrate crude physical force and intimidation. Instead of standing up to them by celebrating Denver as a tolerant community that can handle dissent and deal with the deceit of the “Do it in Denver!” promises, city hall has acted to try to make a police state its beau ideal. Consequently, it has turned to the tactics of Potemkin to cloak its essence. At the most, citizens can hope that nothing goes too severely wrong while they wait for conditions to return to their usual shoddiness and decay once the nuisance of the Democratic convention/visit of the tsar has passed.
As a historian, Goodstein prefers postal mail instead of e-mail. He can be reached at Post Office Box 18026, Denver CO 80218.
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