Notes from the Rocky Mountain West Urban Leadership Symposium

"Once you see the big blue bear, you will never forget the big blue bear." -- Rocky Mountain West Urban Leadership Symposium Keynote Speaker Peter Kageyama, author of For the Love of Cities, on a city's rituals and traditions
On Feb. 27, the third Rocky Mountain West Urban Leadership Symposium (RMWULS) took place at the Hyatt Regency at the Colorado Convention Center. The Downtown Denver Partnership has served as the host organization for the event, which this year attracted 450 attendees from Colorado, Utah, Montana, Idaho, Nevada and elsewhere, including a who's who of political, business, cultural and civic leaders.

An impressive slate of speakers touched on everything from guerrilla art to healthcare to the freeway-free cities of the future, and Denver's increasing regional prominence was at center stage. Good ideas flowed freely, and there were plenty of words for city-builders to live by.

Notes & Quotes

"The solution to graffiti is not whitewashing the walls," said Peter Kageyama during his keynote. "It's better graffiti. The solutions to our cities' problems might come from unexpected places."
Zach Ware of spoke of the Downtown Project in Las Vegas, an ultra-ambitious project to revitalize downtown Las Vegas, with $200 million invested in real estate and $50 million in startups. The goal "the cowering capital of the world" made in large part of repurposed shipping containers. 
Next up was Robert Lang, Co-Director of the Brookings Institution Mountain West. "Denver is the fastest growing large city in the West," he said. But we could improve in terms of exports. "Denver is actually the weakest exporter in the West. It's main export is services, not goods." 

"Nobody believes this, but Phoenix makes more than Denver," added Lang. "Phoenix's aspiration is to be the Atlanta of the Southwest, a major logistics and transportation hub."
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock answered questions as part of a panel with Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Boise Mayor David Bieter.Denver Mayor Michael Hancock speaks at the third Rocky Mountain West Urban Leadership Symposium.
Hancock offered a basketball analogy for Denver losing Fortune 500 HQs: "When the Nuggets traded Carmelo, they traded the big company and got three startups in return. It made for a stronger team."
Becker said Salt Lake's growing passenger-rail network is a huge benefit to attracting talent to the area. "Rail is a key for the quality of life for the whole region, especially the younger generation. Kids today don't want to drive. They're more attached to their cell phones than their cars." (Check out this recent Confluence story for more on rail in the Rockies.)
With sports still on his mind, Hancock ended the panel on an optimistic note: "In 10 years, Denver will be three years removed from hosting the Super Bowl and three years away from hosting the Olympics."
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper took to the lectern after lunch to hit on a few key points. On health: "We're the thinnest state, but we're not the healthiest state." Key: Prevention and cost control. On education: "What are the reforms we can really lean into?" Ideas: Longer school days and years and a revival of arts education.
Helle Søholt of Gehl Architects in Copenhagen next pushed for post-car cities: "I don't know how we're talking about walking as alternative transportation," she joked. "We need to be opening up spaces for people on foot rather than closing them off and making them for cars only."
Diana Lind, Executive Director of Next City.Diana Lind, Executive Editor and Editor-in-Chief of Next City, later offered her take on Denver's ability to compete for talent. "When I was doing a little research on Denver, I was impressed," she says, citing the educated workforce. "There's a virtuous cycle: Young people are moving here and young people are attracted to that."
During the tech/innovation panel, local entrepreneur Robert Reich said "free beer was critical" getting the Boulder Denver New Tech Meetup off of the ground. Brian Boyle, Founding Partner of Issue Media Group (Confluence's publisher), touted coverage of the "small stories" that tell a larger story in aggregate.
Jeffrey Tumlin of San Francisco's Nelson\Nygaard Consulting laid out his three key tenets of transportation policy: "Change your regulations to implement your policy. Don't compromise on walkability. Don't legislate against fun."
Former Milwaukee Mayor and current President of the Congress for the New Urbanism John Norquist also offered his two cents during the same panel: "Just looking at Denver, there are all sorts of signs of overindulgence of the automobile. Freeways will not be part of the cities of the future."
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Read more articles by Eric Peterson.

Eric is a Denver-based tech writer and guidebook wiz. Contact him here.
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