Academics and Research

Interterm class explores ‘Denver Dynamics’

While many U.S. cities struggle to stay afloat, others — Denver among them — are vibrant hubs of collaboration, innovation and creativity.

What distinguishes a thriving city like Denver from its flailing counterparts? That’s just one of the questions that will be explored by students in Denver Dynamics, a weeklong intensive winter interterm course offered by the University of Denver’s Institute for Public Policy Studies. Students in the graduate-level course, which meets Dec. 8–12, will examine the policy initiatives and public-private partnerships that have fueled Denver’s renaissance.

Taught by instructor Lapo Salucci, the course, now in its second year, was designed to take students behind the scenes of a successful city and show them what it takes to nurture vitality.

“One of the goals of this class is to show students how complex it is to run a city,” Salucci explains, noting that Denver’s buoyancy reflects conscious decisions by the public policy establishment and an engaged business community.

To accomplish this, the course introduces students to many of the city’s movers, shakers and policy makers, who share their behind-the-scenes stories and experiences. Just as important, they field questions from students, whose interests may range from education policy to infrastructure development.

Students taking the 2013 edition of the class “liked very much the access to policy makers at such a high level,” Salucci says. “They also liked how candid the speakers were.”

Zeke Perez — who graduated from DU in 2013 with a double major in political science and public policy, and who recently completed his master’s degree in public policy — found the class the perfect preparation for his capstone study of flagship projects in central Denver, for a summer job with the Downtown Denver Partnership and for a newly secured research position with the Education Commission of the States. Perez also found Denver Dynamics a great background briefing for his long-term aspirations: “My big dream is to be the mayor of Denver some day,” he says.

“Loving Denver as a city and seeing it grow, I really wanted a class that would dig into how it works. I don’t think I really realized how many role players there are in the city, and what it really takes for everything to come together,” Perez explains.

That’s true, Salucci adds, for small and large initiatives alike. Even tweaks to recycling programs or garbage pickup can involve a vast array of agencies and private firms. And even minor changes to the zoning code can trigger uproar or stifle growth for decades.

For this year’s class, Salucci hopes “to help students understand how private corporations work with the public sector. Denver has been at the forefront of this and very, very successful,” he says. He also aims to highlight Denver’s success in working with other cities in the region — a strategy that has benefited the entire metropolitan area.

Speakers for this year’s class include:

  • Denver Mayor Michael Hancock
  • Aylene McCallum of the Downtown Denver Partnership
  • Sheila Bugdanowitz of the Rose Community Foundation
  • Jerry Glick of Columbia Development Group
  • Steve Ferris of Denver Community Planning & Development
  • Rich Carollo of the Colorado Convention Center
  • Ken Greene, deputy manager of aviation, Denver International Airport

In addition to hearing from speakers, students will tour a handful of projects and locations that illustrate course lessons. For example, they’ll explore the Union Station redevelopment project, which blended public and private resources to revitalize a historic landmark and create a public transit hub in Denver’s lower downtown.

Salucci expects the class to offer more than just insight into how cities thrive. It also will show students the many career possibilities open to them in urban development and governance. And for students weaned on news about government dysfunction, Denver Dynamics will demonstrate that elected and appointed officials can work together to get things done.


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