Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fountain Miasma by Phil Goodstein - September, 2013

Original Prismatic Fountain in City Park, Denver, Colorado (1912)
In 2008, for the Democratic National Convention, Denver primped itself comparable to a painted lady. The message was blunt: The impressions of affluent visitors are everything; the everyday quality of life and amenities of the citizenry do not matter. Typical was the renovation of the Electric Fountain in City Park. It had been dedicated 100 years earlier as part of the cosmetics of Robert Speer’s city beautiful program. In particular, it was that mayor’s effort to brighten his image during a close re-election campaign after having primarily been a tool of the utilities.
By the 1970s, as growth engulfed Denver, the city did not care about the Electric Fountain. The device rarely spewed forth its prismatically colored waters. For that matter, far from being a prime amenity, the park was increasingly plagued by crime, alcohol, traffic, and noise. Regular concerts by the Denver Municipal Band, accompanying fountain displays, disappeared. At the most, under Mayor Bill McNichols, city park priorities emphasized active recreation while neglecting the beauty of open spaces.
This seemed to change in the 1980s. With money from a 1982 bond issue, the Electric Fountain was restored in 1984. Or so the Federico Peña administration claimed. The renovated fountain failed to shoot its jets comparable to the way it had during its glory years before Denver sought to become a great city. In virtually no time, the Electric Fountain was again broken and neglected. Nor did much result from new efforts to repair the fountain with money provided by a 1989 bond issue.
With the Democrats coming to Denver, however, the city launched a new effort to replicate the fountain, virtually rebuilding this gem of City Park. Locals flocked to it, appreciating its beauty. Before long, however, a lightning strike damaged it. Repairs were not adequate. It has not since functioned the way it should. The 2008 lights have already burned out, not being replaced. The high-tech power relays have not functioned according to specifications. Often the Electric Fountain looks more like the aeration jets at a water treatment plant than a valued city beautiful legacy.
This is apropos. Part of the problems with the fountain is that a water recycling system has filled City Park Lake with extremely polluted, ugly green algae-filled water. The algae have gotten into the fountain’s intake valve—no account was taken of this when the fountain was renovated as part of the installation of the recycled water system.
While the city claims it is again going to restore the fountain, until August it had shut off most of the city’s fountains during a rainy summer. The administration has also committed itself to spending extravagant sums on a super playground in City Park, complete with a fountain. The last proposal is typical of a city hall that seeks to replace solid upkeep of existing amenities with flashy efforts designed to beguile the shallow. More than that, it is part the corporate/political establishment’s thorough scorn for the people of Denver. Instead of emphasizing a city where residents come first, it primarily cares about the fleeting impressions of those, like the devotees of the Democratic National Convention, who dote on the superficial while seeing nothing of substance.


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