Mayor Michael Hancock spoke optimistically of a Denver at a crossroads during his State of the City address Monday morning.
One hundred years ago, he said, the city faced a similar intersection.
“Denver had to decide how it would manage record growth. Would we become a city for people or factories?” he said. “Mayor Speer and the people of Denver chose a bold path to build City Park, Civic Center and new auditoriums, to improve streets and lighting, create better stormwater systems and so much more.
“Of course, there were skeptics. But the people of Denver chose to grow their way.”
In a 43-minute speech before several hundred people inside a packed gymnasium at the new Carla Madison Recreation Center on Colfax Avenue, Hancock, 49, said the city he’s led since 2011 is once again growing on its own terms, and for the better.
“Denver,” he said, “is on the rise.”
But many critics are dismayed about which people and institutions in the city, exactly, are rising, as Denver’s overall housing affordability declines.
Hancock presides over a city where gentrification has crept into historic black and Latino neighborhoods, displacing — sometimes voluntarily, often not — longtime residents. He presides over a city where discontent and anger has grown among those shunted to the margins of the city’s boom.
Hancock says that Denver can be a city that works for people across demographics and socioeconomic conditions. He repeatedly acknowledged the challenge of growing Denver in an inclusive manner.
His speech included the word “equity” 18 times.
“The equity movement we are creating is about neighborhoods and people: Neighborhoods that are accessible, inclusive and affordable,” he said. “An economy that extends opportunity to everyone. A city that preserves its history, character and sense of community, even in the midst of transformative change.”
This year, Hancock said, Denver is investing more money — $40 million — in affordable housing than in any previous year. In August, Denver and its housing authority will go to the City Council with a request to use marijuana tax revenue to increase the city’s Affordable Housing Fund to $300 million — double the present figure.
In November, Denver’s challenges related to gentrification and housing costs played out in a dramatic scene on Larimer Street, where ink! Coffee posted a sign proudly declaring itself an agent of gentrification.
After calling that moment, which inspired multiple protests, got national media attention and kicked off a fiery community dialogue, an example of “reckless advertising,” Hancock went off script to add, “That was one of the most stunning, painful and disappointing moments I’ve experienced in the city as mayor.”
Personally, Hancock’s last year has also come with some scandal. Amid the #MeToo movement, Hancock was accused of — and admitted to — sending sexually suggestive text messages to a Denver police detective in 2018. Some shaming, though no official reprimand, resulted.
In 2019, Hancock will run for a third term, and a slew of opponents are already lined up. This year’s State of the City may have been his last.
But even if he is out of office by this time next year, he’ll oversee a lot of changes in the near future, he promised Monday.
Perhaps most notably, the city will pursue a new community-wide target of 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030, he pledged.
Denver, which is served by electric provider Xcel Energy, is the eighth city in Colorado to make this commitment, joining Boulder, Longmont, Lafayette, Aspen, Nederland, Breckenridge and Pueblo.
“I know these are bold, aspirational goals,” he said. “But we must act.”
Hancock said that Denver will add 125 miles of new bike lanes in the next five years.
Eighty percent of Denver residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, and Hancock promised the percentage would rise thanks to the $136-million Elevate Denver bond package approved last year by voters.
On the theme of equity, Hancock also urged RTD to make transit free for everyone under the age of 12.
City Council President Albus Brooks introduced Hancock.
“A great mayor builds bridges, not barriers, and seeks the peace of the city,” Brooks said. “People of Denver: We have a great mayor.”
Brooks succeeded Carla Madison on the council.
Madison died at 54 in 2011, and the city’s newest recreation center and Monday event host now bears her name.
“Carla would have been so proud of this place,” Hancock said. “She would have just loved it. This is Denver’s newest rec center, and it was designed by neighbors, for neighbors.”
So, too, should the rest of Denver, he added.
“Our clarion call is to seize the moment and set Denver’s people and neighborhoods on an equitable path of prosperity for the next 100 years,” Hancock said. “We need to make sure people can afford to live here. We need to protect what we love about our neighborhoods. This is how Denver will continue to rise – together.”