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Archive of posts filed under the General Urbanism category.

The Garden Plot City

It’s axiomatic that you reap what you sow. A garden will produce those plants for which you plot, plant, and care. You’re never guaranteed a good harvest but you can put effort into actions which have been proven to produce great results. You can also plant different types of gardens. Formal florals, wild naturals, truck vegetables, or industrial corn to name a few.

It works the same way when citizens and their elected representatives attempt to plot, plan, and care for their neighborhoods. We lay out rows, we plan where we want certain things to be, and we use taxes and zoning to encourage certain things to grow. What many people are beginning to question is whether we’re getting that for which we’re planning and whether that’s a good or a bad thing. Are we planning for the right things? And should we attempt to force things which don’t fit into the plan to conform to it?


Many people want to plan for what they know, for that with which they’re comfortable, and for what they like. This is perfectly reasonable. The trouble occurs when the garden plot is shared, complex, and naturally evolving, as is our city. Some people want to plan for single family homes and plenty of space for cars. Other people want to plan for compact residences and plenty of places to which to walk. We’re beginning to see the discord which occurs when these competing visions of how to grow the city come into conflict.

Personally, I liken the neighborhood of single family homes to the garden of industrial corn. It’s one thing, done in neat rows (when done well, or in cul de sacs when done poorly), and requires enormous resources in order to support in any capacity. No other plants are allowed in the garden and are ruthlessly culled. Every plant is specifically given its own few inches of space, carefully measured to ensure maximum growth of that single plant. Fertilizers and heavy equipment are needed to maintain the system or else it completely falls apart under its own fragility.


I liken old-style neighborhoods, built a century or more ago, to a wild garden. Different plants are put into the ground next to each other and lightly tended. Volunteers sprout up and surprising combinations of color and life make beautiful tapestries. Some plants die but are immediately replaced by others that thrive. Done well, very little work is needed. The plants support each other and roll through their life cycles naturally. Each is cared for and mourned when lost. Each new plant which replaces one lost is celebrated as a new life, and a new beauty. The loss of one plant doesn’t damage the whole garden.

I want Denver to be lightly tended. I want new and interesting tableaus to pop up and surprise me. I want to see how the system adjusts itself rather than force it to conform to a plan which only allows for one prescribed thing. I want to mourn the losses and celebrate the births. Now I just have to convince others that the great adventure is to help it happen rather than to fight the unknowable future.

Denveright Update: Blueprint Denver

As promised, this is the first post in our up-close examination of Denveright’s planning initiatives. We’re starting off with Blueprint Denver, probably the most well-known planning document that falls under the Denveright umbrella.

For a little context, Blueprint Denver is an integrated land use and transportation plan. It contains no ordinances or codes; it has no “teeth” to ensure compliance with its recommendations. It is a supplement to the City’s Comprehensive Plan, meant to be used as a guiding document to ensure thoughtful coordination between land use and transportation policy. The document outlines the City’s intent to link real estate development to transportation corridors and transit centers, channel job growth toward economically depressed neighborhoods, and stimulate residential activity in new and developing neighborhoods.

The principles underlying the first iteration of Blueprint Denver were developed during the late ’90s, when the City held workshops and visioning exercises for Metro Vision 2020 and the Denver Comprehensive Plan 2000. Though the influx of new citizens was not occurring at the rate we’re seeing today, Denver was in the midst of a population renaissance driven by a strong local economy. The existing zoning code at that time was a convoluted mess, having undergone countless amendments since its last formal overhaul in 1956. It did little to support transit-oriented or mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development. A comprehensive city-wide approach to change management was viewed as an essential component to the city’s long-term sustainability, and Blueprint Denver became the solution.

The most defining, and arguably most controversial, characteristic of Blueprint Denver was its categorization of small areas and neighborhoods as either Areas of Change or Areas of Stability. Areas of Change were defined as “areas that will benefit from, and thrive on, an infusion of population, economic activity and investment. Areas of Stability include the stable residential neighborhoods where no significant changes in land use are expected over the next twenty years. The goal is to maintain the character of these areas and accommodate some new development and redevelopment that maintains the vitality of the area.” Twenty-six Areas of Change were identified, depicted on the Blueprint Denver map below. Downtown, Lowry, Stapleton, Gateway, and areas around transit stations were highlighted as key Areas of Change.


The theory was sound. A simple, binary system to target infill and real estate investment toward areas of the city that most need it, while the stable areas were left to maintain their steady state with the occasional incorporation of minor improvements. And from a city-wide economic and land use perspective, the strategy has been successful. A 2015 article published on Denver Real Estate Watch cites an analysis of residential and commercial building permits issued in 2014. Private investment in Areas of Change outpaced investment in Areas of Stability by a ratio of 5.2 to 1.  But when we experience this Change or Stability land use labeling system through a different lens, as many have in the past 15 years, some negative consequences come to light.

Since its adoption, Blueprint Denver’s Area of Stability label has frequently been used as a rationale to oppose development—NIMBYs can point to a map and argue that the City’s approval of a particular development goes against the plan outlined in Blueprint Denver—blocking what could be the organic evolution of a neighborhood. Even though it is merely an advisory document, Blueprint Denver has become a piece of evidence that proves proposed Development Plan X in an Area of Stability is a zoning violation, will harm the character of the neighborhood, increase traffic, lower property values, or carries any other of a number of negative consequences.

Conversely, the Area of Change label has been used to justify aggressive rates of development that can bring about gentrification, funneling luxury housing and amenities toward low-income areas, with harmful repercussions for the existing residents. The neighborhood has been categorized as an Area of Change, hence, any change in land use should be acceptable.

In hindsight, such applications of the Blueprint Denver labels seem obvious—even predictable. As in-migration has continued to rise, and the demand for housing has become increasingly frenzied, tensions have risen between so-called “pro-” and “anti-” development camps, and any evidence that can be brought forward to support one argument and refute another is considered fair game.

So, that brings us to today. Now that Blueprint Denver is back in the hands of task forces and advisory committees, how should they address the way the document has been interpreted? Is it simply a language issue, where some clarifications need to be made to the intended application of the labeling system? Or is the system itself flawed, and do we need to go back to the drawing board to redesign our framework for future development?

Share your voice at the Denveright survey portal.

Everything is Made Up

Life is the story we tell ourselves. This is why you can hear stories about people in the worst circumstances with the best attitudes and people who you would think should be pleased beyond their wildest dreams being miserable and on meds.

This of course means that the story of our city is also made up. It’s a collective agreement about what’s important to us, on how we got to where we are now, and on where we should go next. It’s hard sometimes when people don’t agree on how the story should go—arguments occur not only over the meaning of certain history but sometimes over the history itself. Sometimes we forget what happened. Sometimes we choose to forget. Sometimes we simply misinterpret.


It made me think about our recent decision to put a moratorium on allowing small lots to be redeveloped without providing any parking spaces. The exception was originally intended to allow the rehabilitation of buildings on lots too small to make parking economical. Since the exception was put into place, the city has seen dramatic growth and some developers saw an opportunity to build dense housing on these small lots that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. The moratorium was enacted in order to review and fix the problem.

And that’s where the story begins. We’ve told ourselves that allowing housing without parking is a problem that needs to be fixed. We’ve told ourselves that Denver has always been a city where a car is required and will never be New York so we shouldn’t allow it. We’ve told ourselves that the exception was never intended to be used that way (which is true) and we’ve also told ourselves that the dramatic changes we’ve seen in our city don’t or shouldn’t change the story of our need for parking.

But like I said, these are all stories. We can tell ourselves that we need more parking or we can tell ourselves that we have way too much parking. We can tell ourselves that the city will never be dense enough to make living without a car possible or we can tell ourselves that making the city dense enough to make living without a car possible is imperative and start building as though it is. We can tell ourselves that it was never meant to be done this way or we can tell ourselves that creative developers have figured out how to solve some small part of our housing problem for us.

I’m telling myself to look for the opportunities instead of the threats. What are you telling yourself?

Stability or Sameness?

What do you seek from your city? If you were to move across the country and had your pick, what characteristics would you seek out for your new hometown? Good schools? A strong economy? Perhaps exciting nightlife, excellent parks, or good transit? What about constancy? How important is a place’s resistance to change?

I read yet another article today about the astonishing number of people who have and continue to move to Denver. Absent some calamity, it doesn’t seem as if this pattern is going to change any time soon. This brings to question the necessity of growth and our reaction to it as a city. Time and again I’ve read articles and comments suggesting that the growth occurring in Denver is shameful, annoying, bad, or even a conspiracy. People take affront to the change occurring next door.


The euphemism I’ve heard used to resist the influx of new neighbors into old neighborhoods is “stability.” As in, “if we allow this new, larger building it will be destabilizing to the character of the neighborhood.” Or when a new mixed-use development goes up, “I bought this house thirty years ago. Don’t I have a right to a peaceful, stable neighborhood?” Or even, “without a stable neighborhood our schools will suffer”—a classic “won’t someone think of the children” refrain.

But stability allows for change, even growth. A child grows into a teenager who grows into an adult and remains a stable person. A building grows from a hole in the ground to a scaffolded construction site to a skyscraper and doesn’t fall over. And before our completely zoned and litigious modern times, a neighborhood grew as well—from a collection of homes to a retail corner to some small apartments to a commercial corridor and finally to a dense and vibrant district where all types of living, loving, commerce, salesmanship, and industry occur. Not all at once but piece by piece, every city in the history of mankind has grown in this way. Until today. Until now, with our complaints about traffic and our insistence on parking and our baked-into-the-code resistance to change.

But this resistance doesn’t fight against instability, it fights for sameness. It fights so that a person sees the same thing every day, forever. That home across the street will only ever be a home across the street and never anything different—unless someone tears it down and builds another home just like it. Literally, it’s in the code.

But this isn’t the character of a living city. These are not the actions of a growing metropolis embracing its destiny and welcoming the inevitable change and vital growth that makes a city great. It isn’t a guarantor of stability, it’s an imposition of sameness, a codification of bland, a legal requirement for stagnation. A place which fights the arrival of change is doomed to heartache because, good or bad, change is coming. We as a city need to make the distinction between stability and sameness. We need to allow new growth and new ideas, and welcome new neighbors rather than fight change and appear to be the unwelcoming and selfish people we claim we are not.

Can we accept this change? Can we look to the future and be grateful for our opportunities rather than resentful of our need to adjust? I hope we can.

Denveright on DenverUrbanism

Happy Labor Day!

This is an exciting time in our great city. On May 19, Mayor Hancock officially launched Denveright, the most comprehensive and holistic planning effort that Denver has even undertaken.

“Great cities don’t happen by accident. Many great planning efforts, undertaken with our diverse communities, have helped us create the Denver we’re all proud to call home,” Mayor Hancock said in a press release. “There is so much about life in Denver that we all love and value, and Denveright is an historic opportunity for everyone in our city to have a voice on the needs and priorities that will shape Denver’s future.”

Four simultaneous initiatives are currently being stewarded by various agencies in a community-driven coordinated planning process, illustrated by the City of Denver’s Denverright infographic, below:


Community task forces for each area of focus were formed in June. Each individual was appointed by city leadership to contribute a unique voice to a diverse group comprised of neighborhood representatives; members of the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC); one member from each of the Mayor’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committees; two city council members; representatives from the business community, aging populations, youth and those with disabilities; and members with interest in sustainability, preservation, and civic and community health.

Using input from citizen “think tanks”, workshops, public meetings, and surveys that will take place over the next 18 months, these task forces will inform the contents of four upcoming citywide plans that will guide Denver’s growth for the next 20 years.

  • An update of Blueprint Denver, the 2002 citywide land-use and transportation plan.
  • An update of the Game Plan, the 2003 citywide parks and recreation master plan.
  • Denver Moves: Transit, a new mobility plan for transit in Denver.
  • Denver Moves: Pedestrians and Trails, a new mobility plan for sidewalks, crossings and trails.

Denveright is a monolithic planning effort that, if carried off successfully, will shape how and where the current and future citizens of Denver will live, move, work, and play throughout the city. It deserves a spotlight here on DenverUrbanism.

In the coming weeks and months, I will delve deeper into the Denveright planning campaign, starting with a closer look at each of the four tentpole initiatives. Blueprint Denver will be first on the list.  In the meantime, you can check out this four-minute Denveright press video from the city’s planning department, and peruse the Denveright website to learn more.

Denver Urbanists Unite! MeetUp #18 Coming May 25, 2016

Mark your calendars! Denver Urbanists MeetUp #18 will be held at McLoughlin’s Restaurant and Bar (map) on:

Wednesday, May 25, 2016
5:30 PM

Since our last get together in March, the A-Line to Denver International Airport has opened and three more FasTracks lines will open before 2016 ends. Yay! But what about better intra-city transit? BRT on Colfax? Streetcars on Broadway? What about improved transit to Cherry Creek? Highlands? Let’s talk transit at MeetUp #18 and make connections and build relationships so we can work together to advocate for a more urban Denver!


Where do we go from here?

In case you’ve never been to a Denver Urbanists MeetUp before, we have three rules: 1. Put on a nametag, 2. Get your own food/drink, 3. Have fun meeting and talking to people!

You don’t have to register to attend, but by RSVPing on our Eventbrite page, you’ll get on our mailing list and receive email notification for future meetups. DenverUrbanists MeetUps are free.

See you on May 25!

Denver Urbanists Unite! MeetUp #17 Coming March 16, 2016

Back in July 2013, Ian Harwick and I launched Denver Urbanists MeetUps to give people who care about cities an informal venue to gather, chat about urban issues, build relationships, and work together to help Denver grow and thrive. We are now up to MeetUp #17 and they continue to be a source of gratification and inspiration for me.

Each meetup consists of a mix of regulars—people who I’ve come to know from previous meetups and enjoy reengaging with—and first-timers who bring new and interesting perspectives to the conversation. Of course, the combination of regulars and first-timers is different every time, which results in each meetup feeling comfortably familiar but unique at the same time. Also, everyone is amazingly friendly and I leave each meetup feeling grateful that I live in a city that has such a culture of openness. A big THANK YOU to everyone who has attended a meetup in the past!


A pleasant urban scene for your enjoyment. Thank you, Ryan Dravitz—you’re awesome!

Here are the details for our upcoming meetup:

Denver Urbanists MeetUp #17
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
5:30 – 8:30 PM
McLoughlin’s Restaurant and Bar (map)

In case you’ve never been to a Denver Urbanists MeetUp before, we have three rules: 1. Put on a nametag, 2. Get your own food/drink, 3. Have fun meeting and talking to people about building a sustainable and walkable Denver! If you want to let us know you’re going to attend (optional), use this link to RSVP at our Eventbrite page. DenverUrbanists MeetUps are free.

See you on March 16!

Please Support Affordable and Attainable Housing for Denver – Council Bill 15-0811

Anybody following the Denver housing market has noticed a very large decline in new for-sale and condo development. In fact, only one Central Denver condo project, containing 80 units, has been completed in recent years. That means only 0.6% of all residential units being built in and around Downtown Denver were condos. With the simple rules of supply and demand, the for-sale supply is at an all time low with demand rising causing record high average home prices.

So what is Council Bill 15-0811 and how is it going to fix the supply flow of condos in Denver?

From the Downtown Denver Partnership:

The Downtown Denver Partnership has long advocated for policy changes to address the effects that construction defects legislation has had on the Downtown Denver housing market. We are proud to have worked with the Homeownership Opportunity Alliance and the City and County of Denver on proposed Denver City Council Bill 15-0811 to help address these issues through local ordinance changes.
Championed by Mayor Hancock and his policy and legal teams, the proposed ordinance would do the following:
  • Limit the manner in which technical building violations can be used in construction defects litigation;
  • Support covenants that require alternative dispute resolution of construction defects claims; and
  • Institute a majority vote process with all association homeowners before legal action can go forward.
Denver City Council Bill 15-0811 offers a balanced approach that will create a fair legal resolution for construction issues. Importantly, the City’s approach will not take away a homeowner’s or community’s rights to seek a resolution to a construction issue.
The Downtown Denver, Inc. Board of Directors passed a resolution in support of City Council Bill 15-0811 to further emphasize the importance of having a variety of housing options and price points available in the center city and surrounding neighborhoods.

From the Homeownership Opportunity Alliance:

The Colorado General Assembly last session failed to address the defect in state law that exposes homeowners and builders to a high risk of expensive, time-consuming litigation—despite broad bipartisan and coalition support.

This defect means that Denver’s housing market has not kept pace with the demand for affordable and attainable homes among first-time homebuyers and others with a modest income. Rising housing costs and soaring rents threaten to price many Denver residents out of the market. Yet, condos, which have always provided a pathway to homeownership, now represent just 3.4 percent of new homes in the Denver metro housing market.

Now it’s up to the City and County of Denver to address this issue at the local level—like Aurora, Lakewood and seven other communities. Denver City Council Bill 15-0811 offers a balanced approach that will create a fair legal resolution for construction issues. Importantly, the city’s approach will not take away a homeowner’s or community’s rights to seek a resolution to a construction issue.

Here is how you can show your support and help get this bill passed:

  • Send a letter to your City Council member. Head on over to the Homeownership Opportunity Alliance to help you get started.
  • Attend the Denver City Council courtesy public hearing Monday, November 16th at 5:30pm at the City and County Building in the City Council Chambers, 1437 Bannock Street Room 451.

Balanced for-sale and rental development is critical for any successful housing market and Denver’s great future. We hope to see you Monday!

Denver Urbanists Unite! MeetUp #15 Coming November 18, 2015

Hey Denver urbanists… it’s time for another meetup!

Please join us for Denver Urbanists MeetUp #15 on Wednesday, November 18, 2015 starting at 5:30 PM at McLoughlins Restaurant and Bar, 2100 16th Street. McLoughlins is a great neighborhood pub right next to the Millennium Bridge.

As always, there is no program or anything formal—just a bunch of friendly people getting together to chat about Denver’s growth and development and to meet like-minded people and make connections. There is no fee and you’re on your own for food and drinks.


There is a lot to talk about, right?! Huge year for RTD coming up in 2016; new development on just about every corner; new bike lanes popping up all over downtown! Stop by and discuss these and other topics with other people who love Denver and cities!

Click on the link below to see additional details. Registration just helps give us an idea of how many people to expect. You do not need to bring the RSVP ticket with you, and if you don’t register, that’s OK too. Please stop by either way!

Denver Urbanists MeetUp #15 Eventbrite RSVP

We hope to see you at Denver Urbanists MeetUp #15 on Wednesday, November 18 at 5:30 PM at McLoughlins!