How can design improve the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver? My partner Jennifer Greening and I looked at how we could improve not only the mall, but the lives of the homeless who sleep on the mall’s streets at night.
Our approach to this design challenge was how we could make a holistic impact on both the homeless population and the visiting patrons of the downtown community. To this end, we identified a specific location to center our efforts on, and located the 600 block of 16th St, between California and Welton.
This location offered a variety of opportunities including:
- Vacant retail and other properties on the block
- A northbound Lightrail station on the corner of 16th and California
- An existing public garden project
- A large lot between 15th and 16th streets that was currently being utilized as parking
In this open-ended and theoretical design scenario, we wanted to take advantage of the real estate available, to turn this block into a community hub with the resources necessary to aid those in need and still be a useful and attractive pedestrian thoroughfare. Our concept was based on offering four critical services – a place to sleep, to eat, to find a job, and to purchase goods and supplies.
Our branding solutions were based on the concept of focusing on the basic necessities of life (hence the direct and simple wording) as well as the visual metaphor of building blocks that stack, elevating individuals and the community around them.
Dine and Shop are the parts of the Rise community that are open to everyone. Dine was conceived as a 24 hour, pay-what-you-want model of restaurant that would be able to serve those who had nowhere else to turn but also the 2 am crowd leaving the bars and looking for a place to eat.
Live, Work, and Care are the branches of the Rise community designed to be utilized by the homeless community. Once someone comes to utilize any of these services, that person receives access to all of them. Live provides both short-term emergency housing and longer-term transitional housing. Work offers resume-building services as well as job listings and placement assistance. Care offers a healthcare clinic to help Rise community residents stay or get back to physical and mental wellness.
In addition to changing what goes into the buildings of the Rise community, we also wanted this block to stand out from the other uniform blocks of 16th St. To this end, we proposed a radical change in the sidewalk and RTD shuttle lane layout, as well as the addition of two elevated walkways above the street that would allow people to get a completely different perspective on the mall.
These mockups show how the addition of a multi-layered elevated walkway would not only physically connect the four seperate buildings of the Rise community, but also become an instantly recognizable destination for all visitors of the mall to rise above the streets and get a new look at the world around them.