STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS 2008
As you entered today, you may have noticed the quote from Shakespeare adorning the exterior wall of this building: “What is the City but the People?”
Indeed, Denver, like all great cities, succeeds because of the character, commitment and collaboration of its people.
So, to the elected leadership on this stage – Auditor Gallagher, District Attorney Morrissey, Council President Hancock and all of the members of our City Council, and our Clerk and Recorder Stephanie O’Malley – to the civic leadership and city workforce in this audience…and to the countless neighborhoods, families, individuals and organizations that build a better Denver every day – thank you. [And, as always, to my family – Helen and Teddy – thank you.]
Eight weeks from today Denver will host the most important gathering in its history. Millions of people around the world will watch history unfold in the world’s greatest democracy against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.
One hundred years ago Denver hosted another national Democratic convention. In 1908, Denver was just fifty years old. It’s hard to imagine, from a hardscrabble settlement of tents to host of a national event in only fifty years. And for many, it was difficult to imagine why Denver would be so honored again this August. But for all of us, for those of us who live here, earn our livings here, are raising our children here, and know what Denver has become, it would be difficult to imagine a better place to celebrate the promise of our nation’s future. And, for those keeping track, I would be saying exactly the same thing if the Republican Convention were coming here. In fact, I’m still trying to figure out why we didn’t get both.
Leading up to that convention, the nation’s circumstances then were hauntingly familiar. In 1908, the national economy was in the midst of troubled times. The Panic of 1907 had rattled the nation; half the banks in Denver and many other western cities had failed as a result of the long-running silver crisis. In 2008, the mortgage crisis has created one of the greatest reductions in wealth in our nation’s history. Many people, here and across the country, have lost the vast majority of their life’s savings through the collapse of their home’s value. As the price of gasoline climbs above $4 a gallon, many of our neighbors are caught in the vice of rising prices just as their savings collapse.
Then, as now, national leaders saw value and inspiration in Denver’s accomplishments. Isolated by geography and topography, sound planning and self-sufficiency were the only options. Only through the sheer determination, creativity and the collective will of its founders did the Mile High City survive…and thrive. Those characteristics are just as strong today – in our neighborhoods, our vibrant business community, our active nonprofit sector, our dedicated City workforce and our collaborative regional partners – many of whom are here today.
The most powerful changes in America today are taking place NOT in cities or states, but in metropolitan regions. As I’ve crossed the country these past 18 months raising money for our convention, I am most frequently asked how Denver has achieved such success on a regional basis. I confess of course it is the thin air, the clear light, and the frontier heritage of barn-raisings.
Our enterprises today, informed and enriched both by our history and the remarkable currents of change and opportunity that we see at this moment, can shape Denver’s greatness for generations to come. This remarkable gift is our privilege and our obligation.
What are the commitments we can make this morning to improve the quality of life of Denver’s residents, increase opportunity for success for all our children, provide our seniors with the dignity and respect they have earned, strengthen the businesses that are the foundation of our prosperity, and preserve our natural assets that are history’s legacy?
First, as always, is the commitment to public safety. This is any City’s highest responsibility. We have made great progress over the past two years, reducing our overall crime rate by a total of 21 percent. This is a testament to the dedication, expertise, and hard work of Denver police officers, our District Attorney’s office, and the neighborhoods they serve.
Denver is a safe City. But challenges remain.
Let me re-state this as clearly and as emphatically as I can.
This community will not tolerate violence, we will not tolerate crimes against property, we will not tolerate criminal activity, in any Denver neighborhood or community. We will continue the steady, determined progress to reduce crime and arrest and incarcerate those who steal opportunity from others by breaking the law…
Commitments are a statement of our values. To be meaningful, they must find expression in action, as follows:
We have seen the tragic and intolerable stain that gang violence has on our children and our neighborhoods. The Metro Denver Gang Coalition is embarking on its second year of an assertive, comprehensive, and community-based strategy to reduce gang involvement and violence and increase positive youth development. We must continue to enhance and strengthen enforcement, intervention, prevention, and community outreach.
Graffiti is a scourge that violates the rights of property owners and degrades neighborhoods. It is the highest priority of our City Council. Our response: tougher enforcement, increased graffiti abatement crews, more intensive and frequent clean-ups, and expanded community partnerships. We reduced the average turn-around time for removing graffiti by 72 percent, and have increased the amount of graffiti removed by more than 40 percent. We have increased fines and community service for graffiti vandals when they are apprehended.
Denver has deployed technology with considerable success to fight crime. Our city leads the nation in using DNA technology to solve cold cases - and in reducing property crimes. Over the past 18 months, the Denver Police Department used DNA to identify 95 repeat burglars. DNA-related arrests contributed to reductions in burglaries as high as 40% in some of our neighborhoods. Thanks to the approval of Denver voters last year, a new state-of-the-art crime lab will break ground in 2009 - further enhancing our technological crime-solving capabilities.
Last fall, we completed the first phase of the new Justice Center complex - the Post Office/Parking Garage Building, which received LEED Silver Status for its sustainable design. We will continue to move forward on the Detention Center and Courthouse - both of which are on-schedule to open in 2010 as planned.
These are important steps forward, yet the most effective path to public safety is investing in our children’s future.
More Denver children than ever before are getting a jump on learning thanks to the enrollment of 800 new kids in the Denver County Child Care Assistance Program – for a total of 4,000 kids. Just as tremendous, 2,400 children have already enrolled in the Denver Preschool Program for 2008-2009. Thousands of children are off to a much better start thanks to Denver’s voters and taxpayers. These programs represent the priceless currency of opportunity. We commit ourselves to maintaining the child care program enrollments and increasing the Preschool Program numbers, while continuing to ensure the high quality of both these programs.
Like most big cities, Denver has many programs scattered in various City agencies to help lift up our youth. In most cases they operate independently, and miss the synergies that come from integration. The City of Denver and Denver Public Schools are embarking on a partnership that will eventually launch a citywide, neighborhood-focused, integrated youth service delivery system - one that will transcend organizational silos to strategically coordinate City services, DPS programs and community resources around shared goals and outcomes. It was exactly this kind of collaboration between our Office of Safety and our Parks and Recreation Department that brought us free rec centers and free swimming pools for all of our kids all summer long.
Sixty-two percent of graduating DPS seniors applied to college last year. Thanks to the Denver Scholarship Foundation’s Future Centers and advisors in every DPS high school, these graduates received an unprecedented $15.7 million in external scholarships before the Denver Scholarship Foundation dollars even kicked in. These kids believe in themselves, and we will continue to work to expand this program to express our belief in them.
We aim not only to make Denver the greatest city possible for our children, but also for our older residents. Our new Office on Aging is moving forward with an ambitious blueprint for elder-friendly communities by focusing on needs and opportunities around housing, transportation, health and wellness, workforce opportunities, lifelong learning, and public engagement and volunteering.
Investments, whether in children or seniors, whether of people’s time or treasure, require a strong economy to continue for any length of time. Great infrastructure is essential to enhancing any city’s financial prospects. Denver is blessed with a world-class airport, that has exceeded all projections for passengers served, and this year we will break ground for a new Westin Hotel at DIA. And we are building a world-class transit system to connect to it.
Construction is underway on the West Corridor of FasTracks, and Denver Union Station is being designed as one of the finest, most vibrant multi-use transit hubs in America, with five new public spaces to help activate the site. In concert with FasTracks, in the next month Public Works will release a comprehensive Strategic Transportation Plan. The STP is a unique planning approach to help mitigate road congestion by integrating all forms of mobility, including cars, walking, biking and transit. Metro Denver has over 900 miles of bike paths, almost 2,000 miles if you include all the separate bike lanes on our roads. The recent settlement around the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, resulting from long years of effort by Senator Salazar and Attorney General Suthers, will expand the bike system both in Denver and throughout our northern neighbors. Likewise, the River North Greenway Master Plan will extend and improve bike access leading into the Northeast Denver Greenway. This bicycle system will give Denver’s citizens just one more wonderful way to enjoy our 300 days of sunshine a year, an accident of climate for which no elected official, including me, can take credit.
Culture provides a similar competitive advantage for Denver compared to other cities. This year the City and the arts community joined together to explore how Denver will change over the next two decades. The Cultural Visioning 2028 effort will help guide future investments in our cultural vitality. But, already we are off to a great start. Next year, we are breaking ground on the 31,000 square foot Clyfford Still Museum, an institution that has already captured the attention of the international art world.. And this summer, in conjunction with the convention, we are launching Cinemocracy, a short film competition, and America: Live and In Person, a multi-media installation open to the public for online viewing, participation, and judging. During the Convention week, art, digital media and democracy will converge – featuring 10 site-specific art installations in neighborhoods throughout Denver.
Last year, Denver voters approved $550 million in bonds – which we will leverage with private-sector dollars to deliver $700 million worth of capital improvements. Much of this investment is in mobility and cultural infrastructure. Our goal is to build the Better Denver projects in the most efficient manner possible – delivering the more than 200 projects in five years. Similarly, our commitment to the vitality of Civic Center remains strong. The current community process around design guidelines for the park – and the $9.5 million in bonds we will dedicate to restoring its historic features – are short-term steps toward the long-term vision of an activated urban oasis, charged by a compelling community use for the historic Carnegie Library.
A different but equally important competitive investment is to provide our neighborhoods and our development community with consistent, fair and efficient city processes. We are in the midst of an historic change to our zoning code, for the first time in 50 years...providing a crucial tool to implement the community’s vision for smart growth embodied in Blueprint Denver…and providing the flexibility and predictability that our community has long desired. The culmination of more than three years of extensive public input and hard work by the Zoning Code Task Force – a draft code will be available for public review and comment in the year ahead. We look forward to a comprehensive public process around the draft next year before finalizing recommendations for City Council.
Similarly, in only two years, our 3-1-1 customer service call center has fielded nearly a million calls, not only connecting citizens with City information and services, but also allowing us to collect data to improve our business processes. This fall Public Works intends to fill potholes within 24 hours of when a 3-1-1 call arrives. Two years ago the goal was 96 hours.
All of these investments are ongoing, and they, among others, are paying off in an improved business environment. As I mentioned earlier, this country is facing tough economic times and our people are facing tough choices. But, even now, Denver has a lot to feel good about.
Denver residents have 30,000 more jobs today than in January 2003. Twenty-thousand of those new jobs are from the more than 1,500 new local businesses that have started over the past five years. We are committed to expanding and strengthening our small-business sectors. These efforts include DIA’s new Terminal Marketplace that incubates local small businesses and provides them concession opportunities; more than 11,000 entrepreneurs who’ve been helped over the past three years by the Denver Business Assistance Center; and the Creative Enterprises Revolving Loan Fund’s provision of affordable and flexible business capital to creative small businesses. Last year we helped 3,000 entrepreneurs start or expand their businesses, and initiated $17-million-dollars in small business and other economic development loans, leveraging $71-million-dollars in private investment.
This coming year our Neighborhood Marketplace Initiative will capitalize on Denver’s small-business vitality to drive business opportunity and investment in our neighborhood business districts.
2007 was Denver’s best tourism year ever – with a record 12.2 million overnight visitors spending a record $2.9 billion. 6.1 million day-trips – mostly from in-state visitors – contributed another $330 million in spending. Tourism is Denver’s second-largest industry; it employs 65-thousand people and helps keep our taxes low.
The Democratic National Convention is still eight weeks away and – yet – Denver has already experienced its biggest media year ever. The successes that you all not only imagined, but also built and made possible are being held up for the world to see.
Now, at a time when we face real risk of climate change and reliance on unstable trading partners to produce our oil, what better place than the Rocky Mountain west to figure out how to invest in the next generation of energy production and conservation.
Sustainability has come to mean the strategies that promote economic development while also protecting our environment and improving our quality of life. Some would suggest that these goals are in conflict. In truth they are inseparable, providing in combination perhaps the single greatest opportunity for economic prosperity in our City’s history.
Governor Ritter has already demonstrated that Colorado is a natural home for the emerging industries around solar and wind energy generation. His leadership has the potential to create thousands of new jobs across the state.
Energy conservation has similar potential. We’ve adopted the City’s first Climate Action Plan, providing community-wide strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The City of Denver will lead this effort by example, starting with our new green-building standards on all new municipal construction projects. From the new energy-efficient marquee lights at the Denver Performing Arts Complex reducing energy consumption by 85%... to the efficient water fixtures in the City & County Building that are saving a million gallons of water a year…to the first recycling and composting program at Red Rocks Amphitheatre diverting about 90 percent of its waste this concert season – we are seizing every opportunity to save money and natural resources. Recycling will reach 81,000 households this year, and more than 125 City facilities.
We recently completed construction of Colorado’s only methane-to-energy plant at Denver’s landfill, which will produce enough energy to meet the needs of 3,000 homes a year. We will complete a solar plant at DIA which will generate 3.5 million kilowatt hours of clean electricity each year.
And Denver was recently selected by the U.S. Department of Energy as one of 12 Solar Cities nationwide, providing us resources to help make solar energy accessible and affordable to local homeowners and small businesses. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science currently has the largest rooftop solar array in Colorado, soon to be joined by an even larger array of solar panels on the Colorado Convention Center roof.
Huge potential exists to create thousands of quality jobs around the retro-fitting of buildings. Already large corporations such as Siemens and Johnson Controls offer commercial buildings a certified energy audit which guarantees an annual savings in utility bills (within certain assumptions). These companies offer to install the needed equipment themselves, and be paid back over time by the guaranteed cash flow of the energy savings. Why couldn’t a similar program be created for people’s homes?
The Denver Housing Authority has already embarked on an ambitious effort to make energy efficiency improvements to all of their 3,700 public housing units, which in turn will generate $1.8 million in energy cost savings annually.
Denver could work with the mortgage industry and facilitate the implementation of energy audit recommendations to the homes of individuals. By attaching energy improvements to mortgages, many home-buyers could probably receive an annual dividend. Such a program would create thousands of jobs, reduce green-house gas emissions, and reduce the flow of dollars to oil exporters.
At the beginning of this speech, we looked backward one hundred years. Now, at the conclusion, it would be interesting to try to look forward over the same span of time. It is both amusing and alarming to spend a minute wondering what the Denverites of 2108 will be saying about us, as they gather to observe the city’s 250th birthday.
Presumably motor scooters will seem as quaint to those citizens of the future as the horse and buggy does to all of us today. Maybe parking meters won’t exist, because there will be no more cars on the roads. I won’t even make a joke about snowplows and climate change.
But I hope at least a few of our efforts will stand the test of time.
This morning, I have outlined 25 initiatives and priorities in the year to come. These are practical, down-to-earth programs and enterprises. But they are guided by, driven by, given meaning by our deepest hopes for this nation. One hundred years from now – by which point I am absolutely certain we will have elected both an African-American and a woman to serve as president, and we will commonly elect men and women of color as presidents – I hope that people can say we read our times correctly and responded to them with all our might.