Democracy is Coming to the U.S.A – and Denver!


I’m winding down after a couple of whirlwind days back in Denver, to attend a Board meeting of our condo association, mainly, and also a marathon public hearing at the Denver Planning Board regarding a comprehensive sign plan at Writer Square that has got the neighbors up in arms.  Actually, there was no one bearing arms, that I know of, at the hearing in a windowless room of the Webb Building.  But Writer Square residents had purchased 200 flashing red buttons, which we all wore and turned on at the cue from our leader.  Thus the Planning Board members looked out on a room of flashing red lights, a clever bit of theatre to underscore our worries about LED signs that threaten to make a sleepy little mixed-use area of Lower Downtown look like Times Square.  Red Light

The aroused residents at Writer Square , who will be most affected by the signage plan, really had their act together.  The developer’s team was professional, prepared, and convincing in its arguments that the new, improved signs were going to help retailers in the area survive the slump.  They had data, baby.  But the president of the Writer Square Condominium Association board, Dave Hannes, had a bed sheet.  As a long line of opponents addressed the Board, Dave and a helper stood on chairs to unfurl the sheet, which had been cut to the exact proportions of a key and controversial sign.  In the developer’s posterboard mockup of the sign, it looked sort of reasonable, at one corner of Writer Square.  But held up on one side of the room (see photo above), it looked way too big.

I read a resolution from our Board opposing the lighting plan, and lots of other neighbors joined the chorus of naysayers.  When the public hearing was closed, the Board voted overwhelmingly to deny the application.  I heard out in the hallway that this is not quite as final as it seems, because some zoning administrator has the final say.  But I can’t imagine that this person will defy the will of the Planning Board and an articulate mob of residents wearing flashing red lights.

Actually, my heart went out to the suits.  I’ve been there, a PR guy for a company trying to get something done that somehow had totally missed the will of the people.  It’s no fun. But if they’re smart, they’ll take this resounding No and start over, just as the Planning Board chair recommended.  They will figure out what we residents and neighbors think the essence of Writer Square really is, and then design a new signage plan that will give the poor retailers a shot at more business without seriously messing with the quality of our neighborhood.

I was glad to play a small part in the victory this evening.  But mainly I was in awe of the process. The members of that Planning Board must sit through the most boring, detailed, arcane hearings known to a city.  And they were totally into it. They knew the ordinances, and they asked sensible questions and came to a wise decision.  And we the people had an opportunity to make our voices heard.  It was stunning.

Tomorrow afternoon I fly back to Boston to resume Cambridge life, and I’ll be working on the Kindle Chronicles podcast on the last day before deadline, on Friday midnight.  Whew. Our own condo Board meeting went late last night, too, and I can barely remember what we were grappling with.

I keep thinking of Teddy Kennedy, sitting through endless hearings during 47 years in the Senate.  News of his memoir leaked out today, and I’ll be sure to buy it as soon as it’s available on Kindle.  I’m curious to learn how he found the patience and commitment to outlast his own limitations and resistance to the ordinary. I want to learn more from him, as I continue the work I occasionally do in groups of people trying to get it right.

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