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Archive of posts filed under the Sustainability category.

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.


Gates Redevelopment: Planning for Innovation

“When people come together they become much more productive” – Geoffrey West

Currently, the Old Gates Rubber Plant is being demolished. Its long anticipated demolition will pave the way for years of development and, in the end, provide South Denver neighborhoods with new places to shop, eat, hang out, and better connect with new friends.

This piece will not cover the demolition timetable, the history of the site, or what might have been; this is a piece laying out an idea for something new, something interesting, something that will continue to make Denver a lure for future generations to move to Colorado.

Imagine a cutting edge research institute within ten minutes of downtown Denver. A site that has great access to open space, public transit, historic neighborhoods, and great parks. This site would have a bustling center with shops, apartments, great restaurants, and tons of energy. The heart of this community would be built around innovation, creativity, and the next generation of scientists, designers, and entrepreneurs. A place where new technologies are being built in cooperation with universities, businesses, nonprofits, and local municipalities.

What I am envisioning is something best defined by Bruce Katz: an Innovation District is a location that clusters leading-edge anchor institutions and cutting-edge innovative firms, connecting them with supporting and spin-off companies, business incubators, mixed-use housing, retail and 21st century urban amenities.

The concept of the Innovation District it is not drastically different than the original plan for the redevelopment, where it is different is the clustering of anchoring institutions, and supporting companies. I am imagining a series of facilities that satellite locations for: CU, CSU, and the School of Mines. If done correctly, the three schools could share their resources in the purchasing of equipment, better run challenges, and foster new businesses that utilize students from the different institutions.

In terms of supporting organizations, space could be provided for the many other schools around the city: Metro, Johnson & Wales, the Art Institute. This connecting of universities would allow non-technically oriented students to assist these future companies with help in marketing, accounting, advertising, planning, art, etc.

Outside of schools, this would provide an impetus for businesses to relocate to Denver, they would have a plethora of talent to pull from, researchers at close reach, transit, historic neighborhoods within walking distance, a newly enhanced S. Platte River, and all within 10 minutes of Downtown Denver.

http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2013/12/30-silicon-cities-katz#


Denver’s Bicycle Commuter Mode Share Increases 20% in 2012

According to the recently released results of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Denver saw an impressive 20% increase in the numbers of people choosing bicycling as their primary way to commute to work in 2012. Bicycle commuter mode share rose from 2.6% of the population in 2011 to 2.9% of the population in 2012. The numbers are even more significant when looked at in the context of the past six years. In 2007, just 1.6% of the city’s population chose bicycling as their primary commuter mode. That number has steadily climbed every year to the point where we now see nearly 10,000 people bicycling to work each day in Denver.

Graph courtesy of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee member David Rapp

Denver’s increasing number of people choosing bicycles for transportation makes sense. The city has had more 25- to 35-year-olds migrate here than any other U.S. city and this demographic is increasingly choosing walking, biking and transit over automobiles for transportation.  We owe a great deal of this success to a progressive city leadership with a Mayor, City Council and key department managers endorsing multi-modal transportation. Denver’s city officials understand the importance of building a city that is sustainable, healthy, and multi-modal in nature. The opening of the 15th Street Bikeway in August is a tribute to this leadership.

Councilman Albus Brooks and Crissy Fanganello, Director of Public Works Planning and Policy, on opening day of the 15th Street Bikeway

What Denver has done over the past 6 years is invest in multi-modal transportation infrastructure, steadily increasing the number bike lanes each year from 60 miles in 2007 to over 120 miles in 2013. The graph below shows that the increase in bicycle infrastructure investment correlates strongly with the increase in bicycle commuter mode share. For cities looking to diversify commuter mode share beyond the automobile, “Build it and they will come” has borne fruit. As in other cities around the world, Denver has found that building a safe, well-connected bicycle network encourages significantly greater numbers of people to commute on bicycles.

Graph courtesy of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee member David Rapp

Over the next few weeks, City Council and the Mayor will work out the details of the 2014 city budget. Currently, the Mayor’s proposed budget includes 2.5 additional employees to work on the implementation of DenverMoves, the city’s plan for bicycle infrastructure connectivity. Denver’s City Council has also identified increasing bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure as a key budget priority for 2014. Under their leadership, we can expect the upward trend in people choosing healthy, sustainable modes of transportation to continue to rise in the Mile High City. This is a trend that will make Denver a healthier more livable city for current and future generations.


All Aboard! RTD’s West Line Opens

RTD’s newest rail line and the first completed transit corridor under metro Denver’s FasTracks program opened this morning after the grand opening ceremony for the West Line: light rail service from Downtown Denver’s Union Station to the Jefferson County Government Center in Golden.

 

Under an absolutely perfect Colorado spring morning sky, the ceremony at the Jeffco Government Center included the usual speeches, bands and balloons. Several hundred people were on hand to listen to comments from various elected officials and other dignitaries including RTD General Manager Phil Washington (left). After making a short speech, Governor Hickenlooper signed two bills (right); one that allows Colorado cities to use their allotment of the gasoline tax for not only roads, but for transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure too, and another bill that allows RTD to partner with private developers to build and manage parking facilities at RTD stations.

 

After the ceremony concluded, big crowds jammed the trains, as thousands of Denver metro residents took advantage of the sunny Friday afternoon to take a free ride on the W.

 

 

Today, the W Line was free, and tomorrow (Saturday, April 27), RTD’s entire light rail system is fare-free to celebrate the opening of the West line. Saturday, RTD is also planning parties at every W Line station, from Union Station to Golden. Go here to find out more about the station parties. They run from 10 AM to 4 PM. If you plan on attending Saturday’s free ride, be prepared for standing-room-only trains and some longer-than-normal waits. While today’s huge crowds caused the trains to run a little behind schedule, no one seemed to mind. The atmosphere was downright festive, with people oohing-and-awwing when the train went over the big 6th Avenue bridge, and people applauding when the train arrived into Union Station.

 

Congratulations to Denver, Lakewood, Golden, and the rest of the Denver region! We now have 47 miles of rail transit in metro Denver, with another 51 miles under construction.

DenverUrbanism’s coverage of the West Line opening continues for five more days with photos and highlights from this weekend’s festivities!


Denver County Remains Population Growth Leader in Colorado

For the fourth time in the past five years, Denver County has led the state in population growth according to the US Census Bureau. The Census Bureau’s recently released 2012 population estimates show that Denver County (the City and County of Denver) had a population of 634,265 on July 1, 2012, an increase of 14,980 over their July 2011 estimate of 619,285. Denver’s 2010 Census population count was 600,158.

Every year following a decennial census, the US Census Bureau releases its county population estimates for July 1 of the preceding year, known as their annual postcensal estimates. This process continues annually until the next decennial census occurs, after which the Census Bureau then prepares what they call their intercensal estimates for the just-completed decade. This involves recalculating all of the annual postcensal estimates for that decade so that those estimates fit between the two decennial census counts in a relatively smooth and logically distributed manner. Here are two tables I’ve prepared showing the “Vintage 2012” postcensal estimates for the Top 10 Colorado counties in both numeric and percentage population gain between the 2011 and 2012 (click to embiggen):

Denver led the state in both numeric and percent gain for 2011-2012. The fact that Denver led the state in numeric population gain this past year isn’t particularly surprising statistically, considering the size of Denver’s population relative to other Colorado counties, but it is rather impressive that Denver led the state in percent population gain from 2011-2012, given the high population baseline from which Denver starts. But Denver’s population growth is particularly notable historically, considering the extent of suburbanization over the past half century and that Denver lost population in the 1970s and 1980s.

Denver’s gain in population is due primarily to several factors: the ongoing development of large infill sites like Stapleton and Lowry, the buildout of the city’s few remaining greenfield communities like Green Valley Ranch and Gateway, and the substantial densification and infill developments occurring with the city’s urban core. As noted in my recent post on Downtown Denver’s multifamily housing boom, over 6,000 residential units within the Downtown Denver area have been completed or are under construction since 2012, and over 10,000 residential units were completed in the Downtown area during the 2000s.

Finally, let’s take a look at the ten central/northern Front Range counties (Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson, Larimer, and Weld), which account for the vast majority of the numeric population growth annually statewide over the past twelve years. In the chart below, I’ve tracked these ten counties based on their Top 10 statewide ranking by annual numeric population gain. Population figures used for 1990, 2000, and 2010 are the actual decennial census counts. All other years represents the US Census Bureau’s intercensal estimates, except for 2011 and 2012, which are from the just-released 2012 postcensal estimates. The missing values reflect annual ranking positions where Eagle, Fremont, Garfield, Mesa, and/or Pueblo counties entered the Top 10. If a county’s colored marker disappeared, that means it wasn’t in the Top 10 statewide for that year (click to embiggen):

A few trends are evident:

Douglas County ascended as the county with the highest population growth in the state from the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s. However, since the 2008 recession, the county’s growth has noticeably slowed.

Adams, Arapahoe, and El Paso counties have generally maintained a steady presence at or near the top of the chart, with some periodic ups-and-downs, over the past 12 years.

Weld County, which didn’t become a significant growth leader until the early 2000s, has also experienced a growth slowdown like Douglas County since the 2008 recession.

Boulder and Larimer counties show steady growth, but consistently in the bottom half of the Top 10.

Jefferson County saw a dramatic slowing of growth in the 1990s and early 2000s, but is making a bit of a comeback of late.

The Denver metro area generally slowed in growth during the “dot com” mini-recession of the early 2000s, during which some of the non-Front Range Counties occupied slots within the Top 10.

Denver County saw erratic but generally strong growth during the 1990s as the city’s renaissance started taking hold, but then disappeared from the Top 10 for several years during the “dot com” bust days, only to reappear and occupy the top slot statewide for four of the past five years.

In conclusion, Colorado’s Front Range continues to show steady growth in the post-recession era, with the most urban counties showing the strongest population growth.