Suburbs May Scare You, but a Look Under Stapleton’s “Hood” May Reveal a Surprising Amount of Innovation

As the largest urban infill redevelopment project in the country, Stapleton’s name is known both in, and outside, of Colorado. Having the community’s first phases being met with success, countless awards, and even garnering visits from mayors across the world, the development is not slowing down. By final buildout, Stapleton is expected to house 30,000 Denver residents. After watching decades of failed suburban mass developments scar swaths of unscathed land across the US, it’s not shocking that an urbanite’s first reaction is to run from this situation in some Godzilla-like fashion. I stood corrected on a recent trip to Stapleton and actually left feeling embarrassed that I’d allowed myself to be so closed-minded. Stapleton is not every other suburb. In fact, 20 years from now when the outer-ring suburbs are crumbling, Stapleton might just have an offshoot business making manuals for how to bring liveability to fractured surburban American communities.

As Stapleton pushes further north, the project team has kept a fine pulse on the needs and interests of those entering the community. A true emphasis on lifestyle, even if it’s not the one you choose, has been guiding many of the decisions being made by the project team. Progressive urbanism is at work here. It’s already apparent from passing through the solar panel-laden rooftops and pristine greenways that Stapleton has placed a focus on sustainability, but are these more common symptoms our only way to measure comprehensive sustainability?

Beyond simply being “green”, Stapleton has strived to create sustainable lifestyles. Though they’ve achieved becoming the largest EnergyStar community in Colorado, it runs deeper than that. Sustainability has been implanted into the simplest components of city infrastructure to ensure the human experience is always in consideration.  For instance, medians intended for nothing more than asphalt or grass, have been turned into elaborately designed pedestrian paths increasing safety, mobility and drastically enhancing aesthetic. Poachable fruit trees like the MontMorency cherry have been planted throughout the neighborhood to allow people to interact with the environment outside their door. Even the numerous community gardens peppered about have been planned down so intricately that some include organic fences built from espaliered apple trees.

In its newest phase, Stapleton has taken strides to create a place where the Colorado culture and Gen X ideals can be embraced. Homes will now have the option of including chicken coops, green houses and other agro features. Farm to table has been an embraced philosophy throughout the entire development and the team is constantly thinking outside of the box on ways to seamlessly building a stronger relationship between person and place.

  

With 38% of the new residents in the northern portion of the neighborhood being from the previously existing phases, it’s clear that the new phase of development has stepped up its game. Placemaking has become apparent through not only the medians and gardens, but in the street grid itself. Conforming to the grid pattern of the surrounding context, Stapleton has made sure in their new phase to build a heightened level of placemaking within each corridor. To break from the mundane and develop character, the street grid was carefully sculpted into more unique block forms. It was done in a way that retains the grid and connectivity throughout, while also delivering originality. In addition, pocket parks are encouraged to developers for designing opportunities for social interaction and quality of life. To foster community and continue building upon sense of place, homes are corralled around a common greenspace in a dense and intimate fashion. This is one further attempt to create spaces that work for people.

Lastly, in the coming years, Stapleton will continue to leverage its significance as a residential heavy hitter in the Denver Metro Area. It is home to what will expand as the second largest transportation hub within RTD’s network. What will be most exciting to watch is the portion of land set aside by Stapleton to create their TOD (Transit-oriented Development). Though plans have not been firmly laid, we could see some of the development’s highest densities still yet to come.

The takeaway from this piece is simply that Stapleton possesses more than what meets the eye. Though many of us following this blog sometimes get caught up in the urban-only fight, there’s a lot to learn from the community to the northeast. If some of the urban developments currently at work in the inner core cared half as much about the details and creativity of building sustainable living, we might be producing a far better quality of life to experience for generations to come.

By | 2016-12-27T20:49:49+00:00 March 9, 2014|Categories: Parks & Public Spaces, Sustainability, Urban Design|Tags: |13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Zach March 10, 2014 at 4:23 am

    Having driven through this “intimate” neighborhood numerous times, the thing that struck me the most was the “honking” of car horns. Residents so impatient for others who “stop” at stop signs. Felt like I was downtown. I am a sincere supporter of RTD, but this neighborhood prefers to use their horns. At least with chickens in the road the honking would make sense.

    • SPR8364 March 10, 2014 at 11:22 am

      I have gone walking in this neighborhood many times and have also noticed a few extra car horns as well as a fair amount of stop sign optional drivers. However, that doesn’t really deter form the overall quality of the area. I do wish that Denver Police would crack down on the stop sign runners though.

      • Cyclehead March 11, 2014 at 11:22 am

        When my wife and I lived there (see other post), I remember remarking that it was only going to be a matter of time before someone got killed crossing the street. It was DAILY that we saw amazing feats of driving stupidity, most frequently people deciding that the stop signs didn’t apply to them. We argued for increased patrols… got nothing. We argued for making some streets one way… got nothing. And of course, a few years later, that pregnant woman was struck and killed on CPBlvd. It really was just a matter of time. Too many people use Stapleton as a cut-through to avoid an overcrowded Quebec Street, and many residents are just as guilty of speeding and running stop signs. Unfortunately, after all these years still nothing is being done.

  2. Eric V March 11, 2014 at 7:22 am

    The fact is that the urban core is not for everyone. And it never will be. I know that’s borderline sacrilege to say on an urbanism blog, but it’s the cold hard truth. We’re never going to convince everyone to move into the city limits of Denver (or any other large city) – there will always be people that need/want more open space, larger homes, etc.

    But addressing those needs/desires in the market does not have to mean we keep building Highlands Ranch over and over. It can look like Stapleton, Sterling Ranch, or any number of the other thoughtfully planned suburban communities throughout the country. As advocates of thoughtfully constructed built environments, we do ourselves and our communities a disservice if we choose to ignore the importance of building robust new suburban environments and improving on the mistakes of our predecessors in currently existing one. If we choose to ignore that need, we will end up with widespread suburban rot in the future, which is no less of a societal woe than the urban rot we experienced in decades past.

  3. Cyclehead March 11, 2014 at 11:19 am

    I lived in Stapleton for about two years, and now live just outside Highlands Ranch. I can honestly say that while Stapleton has a lot of things going for it, it’s really not everything it’s made out to be. Schools are overcrowded, traffic is becoming an issue, infrastructure is being poorly maintained, and many of the promises we were made in the Welcome Center were wildly innacurate (timing of things like new schools, library, rec center, etc.). When it came time to upgrade, we could have stayed but decided to try something new, and our new neighborhood has been fantastic. Littleton/Highlands Ranch has an undeserved reputation, and anyone that looks a little closer will find what they are looking for.

  4. Paul Brown March 11, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Any prospect of a feature article about the Industry Denver redevelopment project at 3001 Brighton Blvd? Kept watching this blog for information about what’s happening on the site and finally chanced to learn its name over beer at Great Divide.

    • Ken Schroeppel March 11, 2014 at 9:35 pm

      We are working on increasing our coverage in the River North area. There’s definitely a lot going on!

  5. dave March 13, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    I don’t know how a neighborhood can be considered urban if its only commercial is big box. Solar panels and walking trails are great, but where are the main street and independent businesses?

    • Tim March 14, 2014 at 2:12 pm

      Where are they? The 29th Ave Town Center is a walkable, mixed-use, mid-rise commercial center with a mix of office space and apartments atop ground-floor retail occupied by a mix of independent and national chains. It’s at 29th Ave and Quebec.

      • John R March 14, 2014 at 4:53 pm

        Yeah, but that’s quite segregated from the residential and surrounded by parking lots…

  6. Mike March 14, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Sure, Stapleton is awesome and all, if you can afford to live there. What kills me is how much renting or buying in the area costs.

  7. Tim April 8, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    We have lived in Stapleton now for nearly six years and love it. First things first, though: It is not the suburbs. It is baffling and a little insulting to hear the writer refer to it that way. Stapleton is part of Denver and is right across the street from North Park Hill and Northeast Park Hill, neighborhoods which aren’t nearly as dense as Stapleton.

    Moving to Highlands Ranch and Littleton? Now THAT is the suburbs. Cul de sacs, chain eateries, garage-forward houses, big front yards and lack of pedestrian-friendly design. I wanted to get away from that crap, which is why we picked Stapleton.

    Are the houses expensive? Uhh, not compared to Park Hill and most of the rest of Denver. Have there been promises made that were late or haven’t been realized? Sure, but I know they will be. We will have a second Town Center (news flash: not many folks in Stapleton go to either Quebec Square or Northfield Mall, where the big box stores are). And the 29th Town Center isn’t “segregated” from houses by parking. The lots are on the sides away from residential development, not between residential development and the businesses. It’s completely walkable. It’s just that the offerings there are limited so far. But I know that will change soon.

    I have not noticed extra honking in my neighborhood, and I strongly doubt it is Stapleton folks doing it if it occurs. It is true, however, that the neighborhood is used as a cut-through for folks traveling between northwest Aurora and Commerce City. It is a portion of these drivers, in my observations, who roll stop signs, run lights, give pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers the finger, blare loud stereos and litter. Maybe they are honking, too.

  8. Pete April 18, 2014 at 8:46 am

    Lived in Stapleton for a year. It’s “walkable” in the sense that there are nice sidewalks, parks, paths, etc. It’s easy to walk there.

    Walking for function, however, is nearly impossible. We lived in “Eastbridge”, and found it was almost 2 miles (one way) to the nearest coffee shop, drug store, grocery store, or any other commercial establishment. I would challenge you to find a place in neighborhoods like Park Hill, Congress Park, Wash Park, and others where you are nearly 2 miles from any commercial establishment.

    It may be better now that Fulton has been connected and it is possible to get to Montview, but it’s accurate to describe Stapleton as suburban.

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