City planners and urban boosters find the question of how to create a vibrant and attractive downtown an ongoing puzzle. Sports and shopping and the occasional festival fill out a fairly standard set of tools used to try focus attention in the regional middle.
Leave it to a bunch of zombies to create a spectacle that really brought the city to life. Sure, buskerfests and art fairs and all manner of outdoor concerts and meat on a stick carnival events bring in the crowds. But I watched with delight as at least 7000 participants showed up in downtown Denver dressed in all their undead regalia for 5th Annual Zombie Crawl. From the most basic footdragging outfits to jaw dropping costume constructions, the zombies and various other end-of-the-world characters ambled up and down Denver’s pedestrian mall.
The city seems to have a sort of perplexed stance on what to do with the independently organized event. Last year, officials slapped a huge bill on the Crawl organizers to clean up left over blood and guts. This year, things seemed to be a little more in control. Holding the even during the day slacked the playful bloodlust. And the city had the sense to cease mall buss service during the event to prevent the zombie hordes from attacking the vehicles as startled tourists drove by.
To my mind, as city governments look to increase civic engagement and get people taking advantage of their downtown cores, things like the Zombie Crawl should be encouraged, and not just tolerated. Citizens cutting loose, enjoying doing something with a wide diversity of ages and races, in a non-violent and festive environment is, well, fun. I don’t think that fun can save the city. But finding ways for people to participate in their public environmental in ways other than buying stuff or watching sports, seems like the next big thing.