[Part of a series on urban design in Colorado]
So far in this series I have examined three elements of Colorado’s cities–pedestrian malls, an active populace, and nature. Really, these elements are not separate at all and tie into one-another: great pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure with plenty of trees and streams will make people want to get outside and take advantage of such a pleasant setting. Therefore, it’s no coincidence that Colorado has such a strong culture of activity and such a low obesity rate. But up until now I’ve mostly looked at Downtowns and suburban areas, rather than urban neighborhoods. Why? Because I had to save the best for last.
10 years ago, Denver’s Central Platte Valley district was nothing more than a blighted wasteland that served as an eyesore to the rest of the Downtown area. While the area boasted a great location immediately adjacent to the trendy LoDo and Highland districts, Coors Field, the Pepsi Center, and Downtown, any redevelopment faced the enormous challenge of dealing with four barriers which fragmented the district and isolated it from adjacent neighborhoods: two rail lines, a river, and a freeway.
In spite of these challenges, Denver set the ambitious goal of adding 3,000 new housing units, four parks, a new light rail transit center, and more than 3 million square feet of commercial and office space in this area of less than one square mile. How has Denver accomplished this goal without creating a traffic disaster? By making the area almost entirely pedestrian and bicycle oriented.
The fragmented pieces of land in Central Platte Valley are joined together by three brand-new pedestrian bridges which connect the district to the LoDo and Highland districts and line up with the 16th Street Transit Mall. Not only are the bridges beautifully designed and conducive of walking by themselves, they serves as the fastest and most-direct link to downtown and between neighborhoods. Development is centered along the pedestrian mall created by the trio of bridges, making walking and bicycling truly the modes of choice in the area.
Central Platte Valley is also oriented around the natural assets of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek. Apart from the great riverfront bike trails which I already discussed, Central Platte Valley has an absolute gem in Confluence Park, a new beach right in the middle of Central Platte Valley at the site of Denver’s founding 151 years ago:
The last piece in the transformation of Central Platte Valley is the redevelopment of Union Station, which will become its own district in itself. Just behind the actual train station is a giant piece of land that will soon house the new transit center, another pedestrian bridge, and the remaining 1,000 new housing units along with lots of commercial space and a new hotel. Once complete, the are will have much-improved transit facilities seamless connection to LoDo and Downtown.
UPDATE: Construction on the new Union Station area just began September 7th. Check out the project’s new website here.
While the planning process for redevelopment began back in the 1980s, the magnitude of what Denver has accomplished in the last 10 years is simply amazing. Central Platte Valley had a sense of cohesiveness and vibrancy to it that few other large-scale redevelopment projects have, and it is one of the best examples in the country of how to create a lively new neighborhood from scratch.
If you’re interested in Denver’s redevelopment, I strongly recommend you check out www.denverinfill.com, which provides an excellent summary of every major redevelopment project happening in Denver.
And more pictures at the new 21st Century Urban Solutions Flickr