The same peeling paint, the same hard metal chair, the same luke warm coffee and creamer. If you attended the Denver Public Library's discussion about the Byers Library; or the La Alma Recreation Center transition; or the Denver Public School community session about Lake Middle School these past few weeks, you might truly have been wondering in which meeting you were sitting.
Every power point was the same; every issue was the same; every public comment was the same; the anger was the same, the distrust of the bureaucracy was the same, and the total exasperation was the same. But it wasn't just the ambiance. It wasn't just the concerned faces. There were uncanny parallels to the public meetings, the strategic plans presented, the reactions and the conversations about the future.
Buildings are underused...Don't close MY library!
Low performance...Don't close MY school!
Maintenance costs are too high....Don't close MY rec center!
The systems are working well in some neighborhoods, and not in others. Not due to a lack of effort by the dedicated professionals and passionate community members, but the limited resources and the inability to bring together diverse communities to see a vision and to grab hold of what that future could be.
Our rec centers, libraries and schools were all built in Denver for communities we used to know, and the hard part is knowing what they can and will become.
Denver Parks and Recreation has been working to "recreate recreation" by bringing in partners and to complement not compete with nonprofits who all serve the same populations. The Rec Centers of today will not be recognizable tomorrow.
Denver Public Schools is slowly shifting to schools with multiple partners serving individual communities -- charters, co-locations, arts, science and technology, and language schools. The schools of today will not be recognizable tomorrow.
Denver Public Libraries are working to build where the populations are growing, and are offering more modern services. Again, the libraries of today will not be recognizable tomorrow.
Try to imagine tomorrow, where you could go to your multi-generational class, work out after studying, stop by the library to grab a book, all on one campus. Maybe your child could get his flu shot and work on the computer at the library in the same building, while you are taking a cooking class, or dropping off your mail?
Are we moving from the post war era of small neighborhood services dotted throughout the City; or do we need to facilitate more walkability, creating denser neighborhoods with easy access to our government services?
Maybe the real solution is to allow for both, in a tiered system. To create regional centers which offer all services, co-housed with the nonprofit community allowing seven day a week access reaching customers across the City . To create local centers which could be open five days a week, with a more local feel. To create limited neighborhood services catering to a specific neighborhoods' needs.
We have a chance to stop trying to be everything to all people all the time. We have a chance to stop duplicating services across the city in an inefficient and often ineffective way.
Can you imagine taking the leap of faith together, having all government agencies, non profits and community leaders working to create this shared vision?
I can see it, but have a hard time imaging it could happen because we all like things to stay the same.