Smarter Building in Denver
by Seth Brown
In the United States, building "smart" — striving for compact, mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods — can be hard. There are many reasons: less-proven markets for pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods, higher costs of building, inflexible mortgage lending requirements, often-rigid building codes and zoning regulations, and the community opposition that may challenge any development.
These obstacles feed perceptions that smart-growth projects are more difficult to build and less profitable than conventional sprawl developments. As a result, sprawl tends to flourish, despite good intentions. The new Highlands' Garden Village, a smart-growth development in Denver, illustrates the challenges.
The 30-acre (12-hectare) site in northwest Denver originally belonged to Elitch Gardens, a century-old amusement park that moved downtown in the mid-1990s. The site was purchased from the city by Perry Rose LLC, an entity controlled by developers Charles J. Perry and Jonathan F. P. Rose. While their redevelopment may meet smart-growth goals, their efforts went against the grain of the conventional U.S. property development system.
The Vision Behind a Community
Rose's vision for the site was simple to explain but difficult to achieve. "The most important thing was the creation of a community, and community implies diversity," explains Rose. "We wanted to demonstrate the economic model of including all types of housing on a site."
For Highlands' Garden Village, that meant single-family houses, carriage houses, townhouses, senior housing, apartments and cooperative housing a total of 326 housing units on a relatively small site. To design the site and housing, Perry Rose hired Calthorpe Associates, a nationally recognized urban planning and architecture firm with smart-growth expertise. >>>
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An expanded version of this article originally appeared in the premiere issue of The Next American City.
Walking trails and green space take the place of roads in the smart-growth" development of Highlands' Garden Village in Denver.
Photo: Seth A. Brown
Newly constructed apartments next to the old Elitch's theater, which will be retained and renovated.
Photo: Seth A. Brown
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