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Public art, mutual aid, and Kokoro’s Japanese food

Why do WE love Denver?

Hey City Casters,

To state the obvious: We really love Denver. And during this, a time of great love and gratitude, we are reflecting on all the unique things we cherish most about our beautiful city. So this week, we’ve got something special for you — each day leading up to Christmas Eve, a different City Cast team member will shine the spotlight on five things they think make Denver such an awesome place to live.

Today, City Cast Host Bree’s picks:

1. New public art: Carlos Frésquez’s tribute to Paco Sanchez
Recently, there has been an intentional movement to see more of our “1% for art” dollars spent in neighborhoods that have been left out of Denver’s public art bounty for many years. Over where I live on the west West Side, we were graced with a gorgeous new piece this year entitled “Que Viva Paco” by artist Carlos Frésquez, a true Westsider himself rooted in our Chicano story.

Frésquez’s gorgeous three-platter sculpture pays homage to Francisco “Paco” Sanchez, who launched Denver’s first Spanish language radio station in 1954. Located in Villa Park, the oversized stack of vinyl records is painted the colors of the American and Mexican flags, symbolizing Paco — and the city’s — intertwined cultural roots. The way Frésquez has positioned the stainless steel albums makes them look like they are in motion, much the way Sanchez would “spin” records over Denver airwaves, bringing Spanish language music to Denverites in a tradition that still exists today.

Photo: Denver Arts & Venues

2. Mutual aid groups: proof that Denverites care about each other
Once we got over the howling and pot-banging for frontline workers and realized that hey, maybe we actually needed to do more to help each other, Denver got hip to mutual aid. Community fridges appeared in neighborhoods across the city, stocked with fresh produce, plated meals, and other delicious goods that anyone could access without having to get in line or fill out a form. Mutual aid groups began organizing free grocery delivery, clothing and necessity drives, and monetary donation collections for folks who might need support in the form of getting important bills paid.

The important thing to understand about mutual aid is it is lateral, not hierarchical — meaning, no one is in charge or has more power. It’s about neighbors turning to neighbors and saying, “I need help with this” or “I can offer this skill or time to you who might need it.” It’s about spreading resources out in a way that meets people where they are. Simply put, it’s called “solidarity, not charity” and it is a concept that has been around for decades. Want to join a mutual aid network here in Colorado? I made this great list last year that should still be relevant today, no matter where in the state you live. 

3. Kokoro: best takeout in the city
I know I’m not alone when I say that since the pandemic began, my penchant for ordering takeout and delivery has gone up 1000%. But I’ve been served cold pizza, sub par sandwiches, and salads that looked like someone put them in the dryer before delivery. Yet Kokoro was a shining exception. Their fast, affordable take on Japanese has been my go-to restaurant for many years (decades?) and that only increased during these everything-to-go times.

Every takeout order I’ve received from Kokoro has been Instagram perfection. The steamed veggies on their Kokoro Bowl are a just-right amount of tenderness, with bright orange carrots and hearty cabbage glistening under a measured glaze of teriyaki sauce, all still looking so fine by the time an order gets to my house and in my mouth. Their udon noodles are thick and strike a flawless balance of elasticity and chewiness, served up in a piping hot bowl of swirling broth — even when they’ve made the trek from the restaurant, to my car, through rush hour, and finally, to my table. Even their affordable sushi rolls look like miniature pieces of art, sticky rolls of rice and seafood sprinkled with glittering seaweed and served in tiny display cases that I often order just to save and eat later for fourth meal.

Photo: @kokorobowl

4. Group Living Ordinance (passed and preserved!): a win for housing
Up until 2021, it was technically “illegal” for more than two unrelated adults to share a home. This was absolutely bananas to me, a person who has spent my entire life sharing homes with many people unrelated to me. But in February, after years of public outreach, research, and planning, Denver City Council passed the Group Living Ordinance, which made it just a little bit easier to share a home and survive in this drastically unaffordable city. I was overjoyed!

However, some folks in Denver didn’t want the city to be affordable for all, and they fought to repeal this basic housing option. The issue ended up on the ballot and Denver voters only confirmed what I know so many of us were feeling — Denver needed more affordable housing options and allowing people to live together was just one way to do that. And Denver voters were really into this idea. Again, I was overjoyed. (Want to know more about group living? Check out our City Cast Denver episode with my former housemate, Piper Rose, on why group living worked for us and what we loved about it!)

5. The Harm Reduction Action Center: saving lives every day
Colorado is on track to lose more people from overdoses in 2021 than any year in recorded history. Still, the Harm Reduction Action Center knows these deaths are preventable, and they are doing everything they can keep people alive. The small-but-mighty operation in central Denver offers respite for folks to charge their phones, get a cup of coffee, and get connected to social services — but it also provides clean needles, fentanyl testing strips, and safe needle disposal for people who inject drugs. The Harm Reduction Action Center operates on the simple premise that we can’t do anything to fight the war on people who use drugs if they are dead; keeping people alive is the first step to any sort of supportive life change. The center is always in need of donations, volunteers, and advocates. Whether you realize it or not, the overdose crisis will impact you in some way or another, and the Harm Reduction Action Center is here to make sure you and the people you love have the support needed to stay alive.

— Bree Davies, City Cast Denver Host