Denver is one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. Like
similar communities in the West, it suffers from all the problems of poorly planned growth
-- air pollution, gridlocked traffic and creeping sprawl. But a plan to convert Denver's
former airport into a model smart-growth community points out several practices that
cities can use to recycle and rejuvenate older development. The downside is that this
well-planned project is marred by a lack of public transportation.
Stapleton Airport was built in the late 1920s just a half-dozen miles from what was
then Denver's city line. In the 1970s and 1980s, as sprawl encroached and jets got bigger,
the airport began to become less useful. The upshot: What was once an isolated airfield
had become prime urban land to redevelop. By 1989, as the airport's commercial use was
about to end, planning for the future of the site began.
The conversion of Stapleton to a smart- growth development has many positive aspects.
It's only 10 minutes from downtown Denver, and instead of chewing up more green space on
the fringes, this development makes use of vacant land near the city's center. The new
Stapleton will also contain a mix of housing types, including some affordable housing. The
project has a town center and puts schools, retail shops and office development all within
easy walking distance.
The Stapleton conversion also sets aside at least one-third of the area to preserve
Sand Creek, an important wetland. And it uses parks and parkways to create a
mini-greenbelt, which will provide a transition from the city to the open space on its
Despite the great location, intelligent design and innovative plans to protect open
space, the transportation plans need improvement. Tens of thousands of commuters will add
hundreds of thousands of trips to area roads and make polluted skies worse. Public
transportation is part of the plan, but it won't be in place until 2019. Denver and the
developers of Stapleton need to move more quickly.
Creek/Interlocken (Denver/Boulder) A 10-Mile Commute That Takes an Hour
Located on the traffic-choked freeway that connects Boulder and Denver,
Rock Creek is classic suburban sprawl. The development consists of traditional suburban
houses and office parks. There are few shops, restaurants or civic buildings -- and since
Rock Creek is not served by public transportation, residents must drive for every chore.
The only open space the project preserved has been turned into a golf course.
The worst part of this development is its location. With limited transportation
options, residents must add to traffic along the notoriously crowded freeway that links
Denver with Boulder. During rush hour, commuting to downtown Denver -- only 10 miles away
-- can take an hour or longer. Boulder is roughly the same distance and drivers often face
incredible traffic, but again there are no public transit links. The one park-and-ride in
the area was recently downsized to make room for another shopping center.
With few sidewalks, bike lanes or pedestrian- friendly crosswalks, and plenty of
traffic, getting around in the area almost always involves a car. The development has no
buffer zones to protect open space, and instead of using native vegetation, Rock Creek has
lawns of water-hungry bluegrass.
This project shows that without greenbelts and open-space protection, development will
creep along freeway corridors, creating textbook suburban sprawl with all its problems:
traffic, air pollution and loss of open space.