Skip to content

Another way to see the US: Map of where nobody lives

There are more than 300 million people living in the United States today, but America is such a huge country that we still have staggeringly vast areas that are completely devoid of humans. This map illustrates those places. Everything colored green is a census block with zero population.


Map by Nik Freeman of mapsbynik.com.

The eastern US is pretty well populated except for a few spots in mountains and swamps. There’s plenty of rural land, plenty of forests, but you’re never far from a farm, if not a town.

The west is a completely a different story. It’s covered with enormous stretches of land that are simply empty of people. There are towns along major roads, rivers, and rail lines, but vast emptiness between.

And Alaska’s emptiness makes even the western contiguous states look densely populated. Those green areas near the Arctic Circle look bigger than entire states.


Map by Nik Freeman of mapsbynik.com.


Adaptive Reuse: Broadway Plaza Motel

Over on 11th Avenue and Broadway, there is an adaptive reuse project I would have never expected nor seen coming. The Broadway Plaza Motel , built in 1958 when motor hotels were on the rise, has steadily declined in quality and reputation until a developer, Jon Cook, decided that something had to be done.

The Broadway Plaza Motel has been converted into 27 office suites with four ground floor retail spaces ranging from 525 to 1,402 square feet. The brick has been restored and the ‘Broadway Plaza MOTEL’ insignia will stay on the side facing Broadway. Toward the alley, the building has been painted a vibrant green.

04-10-2014_BroadwayPlaza-01 04-10-2014_BroadwayPlaza-02

Here are two additional views of the building. The facade had been opened up, painted black, and street level improvements are underway. There has been some chatter about restoring the neon sign and re-branding it for the new office building. It is, however, going to stay as close to the original as possible.

04-10-2014_BroadwayPlaza-03 04-10-2014_BroadwayPlaza-04

Here are two pictures, thanks to Vintage Chrome Postcards and 1950s Unlimited, of the Broadway Plaza Motel when it opened in the 1950s.

2014-04-10_BroadwayPlazaMotel-1950s 2014-04-10_BroadwayPlazaMotel-VintageChrome

As unexpected as this project may be, this is a solid improvement for the Golden Triangle Neighborhood, not to mention a much more aesthetically pleasing building. It is currently leasing with rents starting at $1,000 per month.


Denver Census Update 2014

In the years following a decennial census, the US Census Bureau releases in March its county population estimates for July 1 of the preceding year. This is known as their annual postcensal estimates. A few days ago, the bureau’s July 1, 2013 population estimates were released. In this post, we will take a look at Denver’s and other Colorado counties’ population estimates. You can read last year’s post on this topic by clicking here.

For the fifth time in the past six years, Denver County has led the state in numeric population growth according to the US Census Bureau. The Census Bureau’s recently released 2013 population estimates show that Denver County (the City and County of Denver) had a population of 649,495 on July 1, 2013, an increase of 14,953 over their July 2012 estimate of 634,542. Denver’s 2010 Census population count was 600,158.

Here are two tables I’ve prepared showing the “Vintage 2013” postcensal estimates for the Top 10 Colorado counties in both numeric and percentage population gain between the 2012 and 2013 (click to embiggen):

2014-04-05_2012-2013-Top-10-Colorado-Counties-by-Numeric-Population-Change

2014-04-05_2012-2013-Top-10-Colorado-Counties-by-Percent-Population-Change

Next, let’s take a look at the Top 10 Colorado counties in both numeric and percentage population gain between the 2010 Census and the new July 2013 estimates:

2014-04-05_2010-2013-Top-10-Colorado-Counties-by-Numeric-Population-Change

2014-04-05_2010-2013-Top-10-Colorado-Counties-by-Percent-Population-Change

The Census Bureau’s July 2013 population estimate for Colorado was 5,268,367, an increase of 78,909 from the July 2012 estimate, and an increase of 239,171 from the state’s 2010 Census count of 5,029,196.


Portland & Seattle streetcars: Rail for close-in neighborhoods

As Denver considers the possibility of streetcars on Colfax, it may be informative to learn about what other cities have accomplished.

Portland opened its first modern streetcar line in 2001, and Seattle followed in 2007. Both cities use streetcars in a decidedly different way than Denver uses light rail. Rather than shuttling commuters into downtown from far-flung suburbs, streetcar lines circulate residents of central city neighborhoods to shops, restaurants, and entertainment, plus of course jobs and homes.


Portland streetcar. All photos by BeyondDC.com

Streetcars are the central city answer to light rail. In Denver, where FasTracks lines shoot out from Union Station in every direction except into the dense urban core, that’s a sorely needed piece of the transportation puzzle.

Since Portland and Seattle streetcars are more for shorter central city trips, their interior layout is more open than suburban commuter rail. Like Denver’s 16th Street Mall shuttle, streetcars are intended to be for hop-on & hop-off type trips. Train interiors are less tightly packed than buses or light rail.


Portland streetcar interior.

Seattle’s initial streetcar line, to South Lake Union, is pretty short. But its second line will open this year, and will bring service to Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Just like in Denver, Capitol Hill is Seattle’s densest inner city district.


Seattle South Lake Union streetcar line.

Since streetcars work together with bicycles to serve close-in transportation needs, Seattle’s Capitol Hill route has been designed to accommodate both. The streetcar line runs next to a fully protected cycletrack that was built simultaneously, as part of a joint project.


Seattle’s Broadway, with streetcar tracks on the left and a cycletrack on the right.

Elsewhere along that line, Seattle has installed special crossings to help cyclists navigate across streetcar tracks safely.


A “bike sneak,” directing cyclists to cross tracks at the safest angle.


At future streetcar stops the bike lane swerves behind the stop, to avoid trains.

All in all, Portland and Seattle offer great models for Colfax, Broadway, Highlands, and other central Denver neighborhoods that need better transit.


The Disappearing Carriage Lot

In a formerly quiet west-side neighborhood, there is a building boom underway. In the area bounded by 20th Avenue, Federal Boulevard, Colfax and Sloans Lake Park approximately 10 single-family homes have recently been scraped, not to make room for “McMansions”, but rather to make room for new 2-3 story, multi-unit townhome projects. Thanks to recent zoning changes, relatively large lot sizes and low land values (compared to the Highlands neighborhoods further north) and shifting demographic trends (i.e. young professionals who no longer desire the “house with a big yard” that their parents had), this neighborhood is suddenly undergoing a major architectural make-over. While there are certainly numerous pros and cons to this type of redevelopment, one aspect that I find somewhat unfortunate is the loss of a very unique land development pattern in Denver. While most neighborhoods in Denver were built with rectangular blocks, this area of town has square blocks with a “carriage lot” in the middle.

Back in 1872 when the Potter Highlands (a thirty-six-block residential district bounded by Federal Boulevard, West 38th Avenue, Zuni Street and West 32nd Avenue) was platted it was laid out in square blocks rather than the rectangular ones that predominate the Denver street grid. According to Historic Denver Inc., “this arrangement allowed for houses to face all adjacent streets and to contain a carriage lot (or carriage turnaround) in the center of the block. Many blocks still have communal garages; others have incorporated the central lot into the adjoining properties. About thirteen of Potter-Highlands’ thirty-six blocks still have a distinct central lot.” This distinct block pattern was extended a few blocks north and east of the Potter Highlands and is only replicated in a handful of areas of Denver: Parts of Jefferson Park, Sunnyside, a 15-block portion of South Park Hill and this portion of the Sloans Lake and West Colfax Neighborhoods. The following aerial photo shows clearly shows the relationship between the carriage lot blocks and the standard Denver blocks platted later.

Untitled-1

2014-03-27_park place XII rendering

Over time many of these carriage lots have been purchased by adjacent landowners and incorporated into larger yards, paved over for church or school parking lots, or in some cases developed into single-family properties in the middle of the block. Many still remain, however, in various states of use: some are simply open gravel lots, some have become more naturalized over the years with trees and grasses, one that I found still contained an old stone garage (that I imagine once contained horses and buggies). In a few cases, however, they’ve been turned into more informal public space. The photo below shows one that has been turned into a community garden.

2014-03-27_Carriage Lot Garden 2014-03-27_Communal Stables

Unfortunately with the new zoning allowing for greater densities in the Sloans Lake/West Colfax section of this square grid, developers have their eyes on these parcels. One has recently been purchased by the adjacent land owner for potential redevelopment and another one that was divided between two land owners long ago is now being built and paved over to make way for the Park Place XII townhomes, a 3-story, 12-unit project that will dominate the center of the block as shown below. In the last few weeks, the unit to the south has also been scraped, likely to meet a similar fate. 

Print

While were gaining density, and increasing land values in the area, I’m afraid we’re also losing an interesting fragment of Denver history, and an opportunity to create more public open space within the community (something that a good number of people in the neighborhood are calling for in light of the new development boom). Since these lots are publicly owned, they could easily be developed into community gardens, dog parks, pocket playgrounds, and communal places of refuge. If we, as a city, invested in a few of these parcels instead of selling them off to the highest bidder, we might not only preserve a piece of Denver history but create places for this new generation living “without yards” to run their dogs, meet their “blockmates,” grow some vegetables or simply relax and enjoy nature away from the din of the street. With two-three story houses on all sides, many of these carriage lots feel like little enclosed courtyards, and could be wonderfully comfortable and enjoyable open spaces: a pleasant surprise to those who find them and/or seek them out. Until then, I encourage you to seek out and explore this relatively unknown piece of Denver’s urban fabric. Check them out before they disappear.