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Are Homeless Ruining I.M. Pei’s 16th Street Mall in Denver?

Are Homeless Ruining I.M. Pei’s 16th Street Mall in Denver?

Can homeless ruin good urban planning? Do you find New York City’s midtown section just a little less enjoyable because of the homeless population? Think of your favorite area in your favorite city: Was there a significant homeless population? The 16th Street Mall in Denver opened in 1982. It was designed by I.M. Pei and

Can homeless ruin good urban planning? Do you find New York City’s midtown section just a little less enjoyable because of the homeless population? Think of your favorite area in your favorite city: Was there a significant homeless population?

The 16th Street Mall in Denver opened in 1982. It was designed by I.M. Pei and his internationally-acclaimed urban planning and urban design firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. It is a 1.25 mile pedestrian and transit mall with over 300 locally owned and chain stores and fifty restaurants.

Pedestrians walk down the 16th Street Mall in Denver, Colorado

It is in the heart of the central business district and draws businessmen for lunch on weekdays, tourists all times of the year, and locals for its shopping and restaurants. By all accounts, it is one of the most popular destinations in Denver.

What has stuck out to me most in recent years, however, is the homeless population (among other ills of the mall, but I digress). Homeless beggers interrupting you for money, seeing them sleeping on the streets, homeless loitering in front of shops, on the sidewalks. They can be aggressive, too. Not to mention the public drug use issues that are attributed to the homeless.

Create more affordable housing, you say? City officials estimate they need at least 25,000 units. The City, though, is only proposing 3,000 over the next five years.

A man sleeps in a public plaza on the 16th Street Mall in Denver, Colorado

And here is another problem: Downtown Denver is booming and people will pay top dollar to live in lofts. Placing affordable units downtown probably isn’t feasible and developers will go down screaming, yelling, and suing if the affordable units are placed in their buildings.

The City also passed an Unauthorized Camping Ban, arguably to clear the homeless from the 16th Street Mall and surrounding central business district. But the Unauthorized Camping Ban is like shoring up ants in your kitchen. Even if you stop them from coming in from one direction, the ants will find a way to your food from another direction. In other words, a camping ban just moves the homeless off the 16th Street Mall. It doesn’t solve the problem.

It’s sad to see homeless on the streets, don’t get me wrong. But what do homeless do to the experience of what is, by all means, a well-planned and well-designed pedestrian mall? Most importantly, what - if anything - can urban planners do about it?

Credits: Images by Jonathan Knight. Data linked to sources.

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Jonathan Knight is an award-winning planner and a recent graduate of Kansas State University with a Master's of Regional and Community Planning and Minor in Business. His interest in planning probably came from his avid playing of "Roller Coaster Tyc...

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