One might think that Denver’s recent growth presents unique challenges. While growth challenges do exist, it’s not a new condition. In late 1800s and into the early 19th century, Denver’s growth left our city ugly and lacking in beauty. Ugly until Mayor Speer adopted a national “City Beautiful” concept, which left his indelible imprint on Denver. As it was then, planning remains key to our prosperity. We sat down with Denver Planning Director Brad Buchanan to discuss our recent growth, Denver’s planning strategies and what the future holds.
JS: Some of Denver’s best development results, enabled by intentional planning efforts such as our “City Beautiful” movement in the early 19th century, provide platforms for development that improve our city. Share your vision for Denver’s future.
BB: In Denver planning, we focus most on the vision of the community. Sure, I have my thoughts and hopes for our city, but our work is to inform and educate the community so they can make the best decision for the future of the city. For example, “Denveright” is citywide planning initiative that is currently underway. And in terms of planning and land use, our city’s master plan is called “Blueprint Denver.” Blueprint Denver is a plan rooted in a vision from Jennifer Moulton, planning director from 1992 to 2003. Jennifer Moulton had the wisdom to define a blueprint for the future – she clearly saw today coming. Fast-forward to today, we now need to update that vision given the success of the last 20 years and the possibilities of the next 20 to 40 years.
We are going to continue to see growth. How and where do we want it to happen?
That’s the essential question Blueprint Denver sought to answer and now needs to answer again. Blueprint Denver, adopted in 2002, had a couple of genius moves within it. First, it identified “Areas of Change” and “Areas of Stability” within the city; and, second, it mapped areas and created priorities for future development and investment. Looking at the growth we’ve had since then, development has occurred in the areas of change at a ratio of 5:1 over areas of stability. That is the metric we track to determine the success of Blueprint Denver. It worked. Planning works.
When asked about Denver’s future and how to create the best out of growth, Buchanan noted, “It’s about formulating the citizens vision.” But first, let’s talk about the explosive growth we’ve seen. In 2013, Denver saw record construction investment of $2.4 billion in projects permitted in Denver. It was about the same in 2014. But in 2015, we hit $3.6 billion in construction permits, blowing by the previous record by 50 percent!
And that 2015 investment occurred in areas of change at a ratio of 10:1 over areas of stability. Again, Blueprint Denver has been a successful document.
Today’s vision is blossoming through Denveright, a community-driven, multi-agency planning initiative for the next 20 years.
JS: How does Denveright inform the future?
BB: We are engaged in many neighborhoods with neighbors, residents, developers and planners discussing what people want. I don’t think we’ve ever seen this level of citizen input. It’s a formative component that will have very positive outcomes. So now we are focusing on four (land use, transit, pedestrian/trails and parks) parallel, citizen-based planning efforts bringing residents, neighbors, developers, business owners and planners together to discuss our future priorities.
JS: What elements are you focused on?
BB: I think I have a sense of what we are going to see in 20 to 40 years. Just like Blueprint Denver 20 years ago, we need to think ahead to ensure the experience of that which is authentically Denver endures.
There are several priorities that have emerged from the community dialogue.
We want to make absolutely sure that regardless of investment and growth, we think about precious open space, views, walkability, neighborhood character and a vibrant downtown.
Our planning initiatives are responding by developing four plans in support of these priorities:
- Denver Moves: pedestrians and trails
- Denver Moves: transit
- Game Plan: parks and recreation
- Blueprint Denver: land use and transportation
JS: To what do you aspire for Denver’s future?
BB: As an architect, I want to do everything I can to push our entire community to demand higher levels of design quality – thinking about the buildings that get built and space between in the public realm. If we keep our focus on that which is most important to the experience of our city – affordable housing, mobility, equity, planning and urban design, all done at the quality levels that we are capable of – Denver will be an even greater place 20 years from now. \\