The Business of Urbanism: West Line Edition

By Ian Harwick

If you build it, will they come?

I am going to highlight one particular Denver neighborhood along RTD’s new W Line that I think will be an interesting barometer of economic development with regards to TOD (transit-oriented development) and low-income neighborhoods.

I chose Villa Park to highlight as this is an interesting neighborhood because it has all the things that developers, businesses and future residents look for in new places to live or invest. Within a few blocks of the Knox and Perry light rail stations are spaces for expanded retail, nice parks and greenways, a bike path, and plenty of housing stock costing well below the local average.


This is a neighborhood that has been fairly neglected for the past 50 years; it has all the makings for one of Denver’s next up and coming neighborhoods. The question is: who will start the trend of buying in this neighborhood? Will it be a developer taking an old building and crafting a new mixed use development? Will it be smaller developers taking old housing stock and bringing it into the 21st century? Or, will the neighborhood continue to be an underutilized gem just outside of downtown?


I personally think this neighborhood will become an increasingly vital part of Denver’s unique neighborhood fabric and I look forward to seeing the way that it develops.

For more information about the neighborhood check out:


Ian Harwick is a Denver native and serial entrepreneur who’s been building businesses for twenty years and helping others do the same for the past five years.  Currently, Ian runs Harwick Consulting, working with businesses of all sizes—although he has a special spot in his heart for mom and pop shops—and utilizing his abilities to connect objects, ideas and people and organize them in a way that fosters creativity and collaboration. Ian is also co-founder of CityCycle, a mobile app for smart phones that changes the way cyclists interact with Denver’s bicycle infrastructure and the community that it supports. In his spare time, you can find Ian writing a book on community building, drinking coffee at a non-chain establishment, or building something new in his home.

By | 2013-04-28T15:22:37+00:00 April 28, 2013|Categories: Parks & Public Spaces, Revitalization, Transit, Transit-Oriented|10 Comments


  1. Julio April 28, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    I don’t really get the premise of this post. Why is this neighborhood exactly “underutilized?” There are about 9,000 people living in Villa Park. The home owner rate is more than 50 percent and crime is actually less than Denver’s average. The neighborhood also has double the number of families with children (more than 40 percent) than the Denver average.

    Yes, the population here makes about $10,000 a year less than average in Denver. They are able to do so because the housing in the area is still affordable. But it seems like you would like those lower-income families to go somewhere else because the houses they live in are “underutilized?”

    Because the reality is when developers come and take “old housing stock” (strange since most of the housing was built in the 50s and 60s and is therefore not that old really) and redevelop it, that usually means the current people living there have to leave and go somewhere else. And instead of these lower-income people having wonderful access to downtown jobs, schools and services, they end up moving to other places that don’t have as good of access and light rail becomes a deterrent to their livelihood instead of an opportunity.

    That’s not to say that Villa Park can’t have some additional development when appropriate. I think there are some underutilized commercial parcels here and there where some redevelopment opportunities make sense. But we should not at all be considering a wide-scale redevelopment of this neighborhood that would hurt rather than help the low-income residents who already live there.

    • Ken Schroeppel April 28, 2013 at 4:59 pm

      Julio… thanks for your comment. I think the premise of the post is not about radically changing the neighborhood, but asking the question about how this neighborhood could potentially grow and see new investment to take advantage of the light rail line while maintaining its character. A good question… and certainly a important one.

    • Mathew April 29, 2013 at 12:50 pm

      I think Julio makes some great points. Home prices in Denver are already too high, despite recent dips from the previous recession. Not all of Denver’s neighborhoods need to be overpriced monstrosities like Washington Park, Baker or Highlands.

  2. Chris Bossom April 28, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    I for one, as a home owner of the Barnum Park/Villa Park area am excited about the future of this neighborhood. We bought our first house here 3 years ago. The neighborhood isn’t/wasn’t the best in terms of having newer looking homes, nicer yards and newer businesses, but it was 5 minutes to downtown and close enough to the existing light rail lines. With the opening of the West Line we are excited about new business coming in and taking up real estate. Maybe a new grocery store, more family owned business, some coffee shops, places that get the residents out and about and walking around to enjoy their neighborhood. There are enough crappy tire shops and Dollar Stores, it’s time for an overall that people of all incomes can enjoy and have a pride in their neighborhood. I received our tax notice that our home value increased $12,000 as of June 2012. I’m thrilled to see how this increases next year especially after the light rail coming through. Thanks for the post, it was complete relevant. Can’t wait for more.

  3. Bill Spriggs April 29, 2013 at 5:49 am

    To All:
    The fear that Julio expresses comes down to the age-old problem of the rich pushing the poor around to benefit their own pockets and lifestyles; they do it because they can – and the poor can’t do anything about it – because, they can’t.

    The poor need access to transit and jobs to be set free from being pushed to the sprawling suburbs where they usually have their wallets sucked dry by an undependable, gas-guzzling automobile trying to get to lower-wage jobs and family duties needed to survive.

    The answer, of course, is for policy makers to set the building and land use laws to make sure that there are adequate developments that focus on mixed-incomes and lifestyles.
    It’s a simple lesson of life: Too much of ONE thing is not good for you – be it food, sex, music — or ghettos of rich in gated-communities — or poor people stuck down-wind of opportunities living in neighborhoods drawn on a map.
    Bill Spriggs
    Resident of the West Rail Line Corridor

  4. Dan April 29, 2013 at 10:34 am

    I’m also a resident of Barnum/Villa Park…bought a house there 5 years ago knowing the neighborhood would change for the better. I don’t think the neighborhood is necessarily underutilized…but it is AWESOME to see run down properties and businesses flipped and new life breathed into a decaying neighborhood. 5 min from downtown, an awesome park system in the gulch, and now light rail…I don’t think houses in this neighborhood will be 60 grand for long. And to respond to Julio – if you live in Villa park only good things will come of it…you can choose to stay and enjoy the changing neighborhood, or sell and make bank on your house. Nobody is being forced out of the community. And my house was built in 1904 as were many of the homes nearby.

  5. Ian Harwick April 30, 2013 at 10:38 am

    I am really excited to see everyone’s comments about my post. I am glad that it has prompted conversation on the site.

    Whether anyone likes change it will happen with the addition of the W line, it is not just a way to move people through Golden/Lakewood/Denver, but is also a vehicle for economic development. Every city involved is expecting TOD to happen around every stop and Villa Park just happens to be the one that I highlighted…I very easily could have picked any stop eventually going to Arvada or out to the airport.

    In regards to your statement Julio, I am not saying anything negative about the neighborhood. I live in Athmar Park which is incredibly similar to Villa Park. As I said above there are some key things that big and small developers look for in neighborhoods and Villa Park fits the bill. In addition, every neighborhood that borders FasTracks is going to fall into a similar window of change and opportunity; hopefully neighbors that already live in these neighborhoods will stay there to guide the changes that are bound to happen.

  6. Matt April 30, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    As some have elluded to for a variety of reasons, gentrification can be a difficult and fragile topic. Regardless of what anyone thinks should or should not happen, it’s fairly clear that Villa Park, and other similiar neighborhoods along W Line, will begin changing rather quickly.

    One thing I find interesting, related to what Bill mentioned about mixed income neighborhoods, is the potential for Sun Valley. Sun Valley is a neighborhood that DHA owns that could be a great model for redevelopment. Sun Valley and Lincoln Park will be great test cases for redevelopment in culturally, socially, economic, and generational ways that truly benefit everyone. Of course DHA owns housing in areas like Lincoln Park and Sun Valley, and can control the housing stock, unlike in Villa Park.

    I live in Villa Park, and purchased 3 years ago almost entirely due to the location and the future light rail. I love the neighborhood, parks, and people, but I can see changes happening everyday. There are a good handful of lots and rundown properties that I think will be redeveloped, and that will be great to see. I hope that no one will be pushed out, however, I do think this neighborhood and similiar ones will be harder and harder to get into for a reasonable price, and that is why Sun Valley could be so important to the neighborhood.

  7. Chad April 30, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    Frankly, I feel that Villa Park was an odd choice on your part. As a neighborhood that’s chock full of single family homes, there’s really not much potential for large-scale redevelopment. In order to do any kind of mixed-use development in Villa Park, a developer would have to strategically buy at least 4 or 5 neighboring houses (and that’s not easy to do). What’s more likely in Villa Park is that there will be scrape-offs of small homes which will be replaced with bigger ones or duplexes. The real development is going to happen further west where there are large parcels that developers can work from (like around the Oak St. Station).

  8. Julio May 1, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    Thanks for your posts everyone. I agree that gentrification is a very fragile thing. As a Villa Park resident, I am glad that there are some new homeowners and different people moving in. I am not against the neighborhood being more attractive to a wider variety of people.

    My concern is what Chad alludes to which is that there are not a ton of opportunities for wide-scale redevelopment in Villa Park as the neighborhood is pretty much built out. So instead what I fear is a lot of scrape-offs and a lot of landlords forcing their low-income residents to leave so they can go for that wealthier tenant. Not 20 years ago, much of Highlands was a much more lower-income area with a greater diversity of residents. Now it’s almost exclusively for the wealthy. I do not want to see that happen to Villa Park, especially since there are so many families here. I am encouraged by projects such as the recent purchase of a large apartment complex near the Wadsworth station to keep available housing for low-income and the Sun Valley redevelopment which looks (as of now) that it’ll actually increase available housing for low-income families as well as bring in more people from a diversity of incomes.

    And I hope Denver strongly supports its own Blueprint plans and keeps the vast majority of Villa Park as an “area of stability” as outlined. I definitely recognize how capitalism and housing development work towards almost inevitable gentrification, but really hope the city steps up to ensure that low-income families aren’t simply scooted along somewhere else and instead these wonderful public investments like light rail are shared with them.

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