Skip to content
Archive of posts filed under the Urban Design category.

Explore Denver Inside Out at Doors Open Denver 2015!

The 11th annual Doors Open Denver will take place Saturday, April 25 and Sunday, April 26, when buildings throughout Denver will open their doors to the public for exclusive and rare viewing opportunities, exposing the inside of Denver’s unique urban fabric. Doors Open Denver is presented by the Denver Architectural Foundation and draws tens of thousands of attendees each year.

I’ve always been a big fan of Doors Open Denver, but I’m even more excited about the event now because I’m helping to organize it! I’m a new member of the Denver Architectural Foundation Board of Directors and I’m serving on the Doors Open Denver planning committee. My interest in working on Doors Open Denver is to help propel what is already the Mile High City’s premier urban exploration event into an even bigger and better opportunity for people to experience our beautiful city and learn about many of its interesting buildings and sites.

2015-02-26_DOD-logo

Free participating sites include the Historic Sugar Building, the Dry Ice Factory, RedLine, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, the Denver Art Museum, The Lobby-­Paris Hotel Building, The Source, Converge Denver and TAXI, among dozens of others. Several of the sites will offer free interactive activities and exhibits. For example, the Denver Fire Department Station #3 will provide firefighter gear demonstrations, fire safety education and giveaway items, and the Byers-Evans House Museum will host The Family Dog: Denver, an exhibition of rock posters from The Family Dog (1967‐1968).

Doors Open Denver also offers ticketed Insider Tours, providing engaging opportunities to view areas of buildings not frequently open to the public. This year’s tours include a look at the Mansions of Capitol Hill, the DaVita building, the D&F Tower, and the Counter-terrorism Education Learning Lab (CELL), along with many others. Tickets will range in cost from $5 to $25, and registration will open to the public on April 6. Proceeds benefit Doors Open Denver, a nonprofit organization.

To help celebrate and promote Doors Open Denver 2015, DenverUrbanism will be featuring brief profiles of over 50 of the free participating sites—one per day for the next 50-plus days—until Doors Open Denver weekend in April! To help with this monumental effort is our Doors Open Denver star intern Maggie Lyons, whose first site profile (featuring Denver Union Station, our Doors Open Denver 2015 headquarters) will appear here tomorrow.


Could Brighton Boulevard Become a Pedestrian Paradise?

By Jill Locantore, WalkDenver Policy and Program Director

WalkDenver is excited to participate in a working group that is advising the City of Denver on the design of Brighton Boulevard from 29th Street to 44th Street. Last April, the City released a plan [pdf] outlining a bold vision for transforming Brighton Boulevard into an engaging, connected, multimodal gateway. In November, City Council approved a 2015 budget that allocates $26 million for improvements along the corridor, which currently serves more as a “back door” into downtown. This funding will go a long way toward making the City’s vision a reality, and presents a unique opportunity to create a true multimodal street that sets a precedent for similar projects in the future. Redesigning Brighton Boulevard won’t be easy, however, and the proverbial devil is in the details.

Today, Brighton Boulevard is a harrowing place for pedestrians and bicyclists, which is to say, people. Most of the corridor has no sidewalks, no curb and gutter, no bicycle facilities, no streetscaping, and no tree canopy. The intrepid person who attempts to walk or bike to one of the enticing new developments or adaptive reuse projects along the Boulevard, such as The Source or Industry, is likely to encounter dirt and gravel, standing water (if it’s rained recently), cars parked willy-nilly on the shoulder of the roadway, and traffic flowing freely in and out of adjacent properties, without any clear driveways. On the bright side (pun intended), this almost complete lack of infrastructure means the Boulevard, in some sense, is a blank canvas on which the City can paint a new vision. Will the City seize this opportunity and transform Brighton into a true pedestrian paradise?

BrightonBlvdExistingStreetscape

Existing Brighton Boulevard streetscape. Photo credit: City & County of Denver

The City’s plan clearly states the redesigned roadway must accommodate all modes of travel—walking, biking, transit, and driving—as well as a tree lawn and “amenity zone” with public art and other streetscaping that creates “a consistent character and attractive gateway to downtown.” The challenge is fitting all of these elements within the available right-of-way, particularly when the City envisions that Brighton will remain “an important vehicular connector” and, therefore, must continue to have four, 11-foot-wide lanes. So, the working group is rolling up its sleeves and digging into the trade-offs associated with restricting left turns versus providing protected turn lanes, on-street bike lanes versus raised cycle tracks, continuous versus intermittent on-street parking, etc.

BrightonBlvd

Potential Brighton Boulevard streetscape. Photo credit: City & County of Denver

Here are a few of the issues that WalkDenver is particularly interested in:

  • Safely separating pedestrian and bicycle facilities, to minimize potential conflict
  • Ensuring a robust tree canopy and quality landscaping (rather than planting trees that are doomed to die due to inadequate access to water, air, or room to grow)
  • Innovative storm water collection facilities that capture moisture, support vegetation and create a “pedestrian-friendly micro-climate”
  • Enhancing safety and convenience for pedestrians crossing Brighton Boulevard, including minimizing the distance people must walk across the street and between safe crossings
  • Minimizing the impact of driveways (property access points) on continuity of sidewalks and pedestrian safety
  • Providing pedestrian-oriented wayfinding, particularly to the pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks at 35th, the bridge over the Platte River at 31st, and the access point to the Platte River Trail at 29th
  • Street design that allows for outdoor cafes and a pedestrian-friendly streetscape
In addition to seeking guidance from the working group, the City will be hosting public meetings in the coming months to present and gather feedback on design concepts. Stay tuned for more information!

 


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.


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.


“Sneckdowns” reveal street space cars don’t use

Every time it snows, vast sections of city streets remain covered by snow long after plows and moving cars have cleared the travel lanes. These leftover spaces are called “sneckdowns,” and they show where sidewalks or medians could replace roads without much loss to car drivers.


Photo by Anne G on flickr.

The term sneckdown is a portmanteau of “snow” and “neckdown,” the latter being another term for sidewalk curb extensions. So it literally means a sidewalk extension created by snow.

New York’s biggest urbanist blog, Streetsblog, put out a call for photos of sneckdowns in the wild earlier this winter. They’ve received plenty of responses.

Be on the lookout for these as winter continues to roll along.