Mark Falcone on Rome, Housing, and Local Distinction
What is an urbanist? Simply put, we believe an urbanist is a person who deeply loves where they live and believes in using their work to make their neighborhood, their city, better. Through our Ask an Urbanist series, we’ll get to know the people who make our cities special. From diverse disciplines and backgrounds, they all have one thing in common: they make their communities better places to live.
Mark Falcone is the founder and CEO of Continuum Partners, a property development firm based out of Denver, Colorado. With a commitment to sustainable practices and a community-first approach, Mark and Continuum Partners are reimagining the intersection between people, culture, the environment, and the buildings that shape our neighborhoods and cities.
Continuum guides its work through a strong set of community values and with mission driven purpose. A philanthropist, environmentalist, and patron of the arts, Mark is busy building a better tomorrow both in and out of the office. We talked to him about his love of Rome, what’s on the horizon for downtown Denver, and the pressing need for affordable housing.
Q. What is your hands-down favorite city or town and why?
Roma. It is a living, historical almanac cataloging 2,500 years of urban settlement and human history. The fact that it remains a functioning modern city is astounding. There is no lesson in urban design that cannot be found in Rome. And while it is obviously an international destination, it is still fundamentally occupied and defined by Italians.
Q. How would you describe the state of your city right now?
The greater Denver metropolitan area has been on a 25-year tear. That market momentum began to creep into several city-center neighborhoods around the central business district (CBD) in the early 2000s, but it was not until 2010 that the CBD began to meaningfully transform.
While the combination of COVID and the Black Lives Matter protests have dampened the energy in downtown Denver for the moment, there are several significant new developments scheduled to open in Q1 and Q2 of 2021. Downtown continues to be the primary target for tech companies looking to expand into Denver. And housing values continue to escalate faster inside the City and County of Denver proper than the outlying suburbs, even during the pandemic.
Q. What is the biggest challenge facing our society today?
Income inequality and the lack of housing security and healthcare, all of which exacerbate the stresses on our ever-shrinking middle class. They are the root causes of our political distress, which will not go away until we fundamentally solve these three issues.
Q. What’s the biggest opportunity we have in rebuilding our communities?
Many of our center cities are experiencing epochal shifts in their core neighborhoods. After years of economic decline, investment capital is flowing into these previously avoided sub-markets. We need to seize this moment to ensure that the densification of these cities includes an appropriate share of attainable, rent-stable housing. And I am not talking about 10 percent inclusionary ordinances.
Q. What period in time do you find the most inspiring?
I would have really liked to live in London in the 1960s and Rome in the 1950s.
Q. What’s the innovation you find the most useful, personally?
The cell phone. I do not miss phone booths.
Q. What innovation do you find the most detrimental, societally?
Any technology that undermined printed, edited news sources.
Q. What’s the most urgent issue to solve in our communities, post-COVID?
Housing, housing, and housing.
Q. What’s the “silver lining” you find the most promising?
From COVID, I presume? A clean closet and an organized home office.
Q. If you had to pick one place to spend the rest of your days, where would it be?
Did I mention Rome yet?
I long for more genuine, local distinction, and not the kind of variants an algorithm creates.
Q. What’s something that’s moved you—to tears, to act, to smile—whatever it may be?
The California fires are breaking my heart.
Q. What’s the biggest misconception you’ve experienced in your advocacy for sustainable urban development?
That we cannot solve greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years.
Q. Who are three innovators (artists, inventors, business people, companies, etc.) we should all be watching for right now? Why do you have your eye on them?
Local artists and small entrepreneurs. That is where the most useful innovations are. I don’t want to live in the homogeneity created by global tech. I don’t want to see the same art in London that I see in Los Angeles. I don’t want to eat the same food in Nashville that I eat in Chicago. And I definitely don’t want to live in the same branded apartment in Denver and New York. I long for more genuine, local distinction, and not the kind of variants an algorithm creates.