I’m on my way to the central coast of California to see my good friend, David Cooper.
Denver just opened a light rail from Union Station to Denver International Airport (DIA), so I walked to Union Station from our house and hopped on the light rail for the first time.
For those of you not from Denver, you need to know that 20 years ago, the mayor of Denver, Fredrico Pena, realizing that the city was going to grow east from downtown, decided to build a new airport, replacing the old Stapleton Airport with DIA. It was a great idea, except that DIA is a full 20 miles east of downtown and its environs, where the bulk of Denverites live, and given that they didn’t plan for a public transportation system to link downtown and the airport, it was 20 years until I could do what I did today.
The whole trip, from my house in northwest Denver to the airport was super cool.
First of all, the Union Station redevelopment project is marvelous. Thirty years ago, the Union Station area of Denver looked basically war-torn. The lovely nineteenth-century brick buildings that lined Wynkoop, Wyandot, Larimer and Blake Streets had fallen into disrepair after people and industry moved out of downtown and there were ugly, 1960s-style viaducts that ran from what’s now called the Lower Highlands, across Interstate 25 and dropped down into the lower downtown area.
Besides being eyesores, the viaducts darkened the downtown area and created a creepy atmosphere that just encouraged crime. Beyond the viaducts were large tracts of undeveloped land between the Platte River and the downtown area. These were the old stock yards and when I first moved to Denver in the early 2000s, you could still see the fences that penned the cattle in and precluded them from stampeding up 16th Street.
Here’s what the area looked like around 1900:
Now, the Union Station area glistens with steel and glass. I’m usually suspicious of large redevelopment projects, given the nefarious and often invisible effects of gentrification, but, I have to say, I think this redevelopment project has been and will continue to be good for Denver.
I boarded the train and in 37 minutes I disembarked on a platform on the south side of DIA. This is super cool because in the past, when you got to DIA, there was nowhere to go but inside; that is there were no public spaces out and around the airport where you could walk outside. This was a shame because given that DIA is so far from Denver proper and given that it basically sits on a gently rolling plain, it offers magnificent views west toward the city and the foothills.
Plus, given that the weather is generally beautiful here 300 days a year, it makes sense to have outdoor public spaces by the airport where you can enjoy the scenery as well as the architecture of DIA.