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Democratic National Convention Showcases Green Denver


No matter how you look at it, Denver is an eco-friendly town. A broad network of urban and mountain parks and a commitment to making the city a clean and livable place is what people say they like about the city. That's also what attracted the Democratic National Convention to the Mile High City.

Locals hope that when the 50,000 visitors fan out over Denver in late August, what they see is not only the greenest convention on record, but also a city that is taking the lead in finding solutions to climate change.

With 1400 kilometers of bike paths in the metro area, Denver is among the most bike-friendly cities in the United States. On Bike to Work Day in late June, 35,000 Denverites road bikes to their jobs. John Hickenlooper, who became mayor of Denver five years ago, was one of them.

Hickenlooper is among 850 mayors from across the United States who have pledged to address the impact of climate change.

Last year, he initiated "Greenprint Denver," a 5-year citywide plan to reduce global warming emissions by 20 percent.

"We have got to stay focused and make sure that we are not wasting energy," he says, "Greenprint Denver is [a plan] to get all the city agencies working together to make sure that we are addressing everything the most efficient way possible."

"They are doing that through renewable energy programs, water conservation, greening homes and businesses, expanding recycling, planting a million trees and building green, "says Michele Weingarden, who heads the program.

She says Greenprint Denver did an inventory of the city's greenhouse gas emissions that helped identify special projects to lower the city's carbon footprint.

People in the metro area not only understand the problem of climate change, they are committed to solving it. Recently, citizens voted to raise taxes to pay for a 200-kilometer extension in Denver's light and commuter rail system.

Hickenlooper says 32 mayors in the metropolitan area supported the extension. "Republicans and Democrats, from little tiny towns and big cities, every mayor supported it because we realized we are here for a quality of life."

In a former warehouse in Denver's historic Lower Downtown district , John Powers runs the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado. "The intention was to create a hub for non-profits," he says. "We also wanted to make it a healthy building. So that is why we made it green."

Using off-the-shelf technologies, the Alliance has turned its 1906 building into a model for 21st century energy efficiency. Power says electric use is down 40 percent and water consumption down 90 percent. "That is pretty amazing," he says. "When you consider that there are double the number of people working in the building before we got it and easily ten times the number of visitors."

In a building tour, Powers points out strategically placed signs in the corridors, in the bathrooms and offices that explain the technologies being used here. He says it's an effort to get consumers to make some changes. "The features are wonderful and important to show people what they can do in their own lives, but actually we use them like honey to attract bees to show people the value and importance of collaboration in a healthy environment and setting."

Democratic National Convention organizers expect to put on the greenest convention ever, one that will set the standard for future such events. City officials are hoping that visitors and delegates will take home some green ideas — from the flower planters, recycle bins and bike paths to the transit system, solar arrays and sustainable buildings — so Denver's green solutions will flourish across the country.

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